best motivation theories
People and Culture

What Are The Best Motivation Theories For Employers in 2024?

Gary Zurnamer

November 16, 2023



Employee motivation is one of the most important factors to consider in any workplace. 

As we head into 2024 and some financially challenging times for many, motivation is a major factor for employee output.

Employee motivation not only affects the productivity and efficiency of your company, but it also plays a critical role in employee satisfaction and retention. As such, top employers constantly seek effective ways to motivate and keep their employees engaged, which is crucial to building Employer Brand and Employee Value Propositions (EVPs).

The underlying factor, however, is understanding the various motivational theories that drive human behaviour and how it can be influenced in a work setting. In this article, we explore some of the best motivation theories for employers - and how you can apply them to create a positive and more productive work environment. We also look at tools like Vouch that make feedback easy with your employees and transition this feedback into your Employer Brand videos.

What is Motivation Theory?

Motivational theory is a collection of ideas, concepts, and models that aim to explain the underlying factors that drive human behaviour. 

It explores the psychological processes involved in motivation and how it can be utilized to influence and improve employee performance. These theories are crucial for employers to create employee engagement and retention strategies.

Motivation theories take into account individual needs, desires, goals, and rewards, among others, to provide insights into why people behave the way they do. 

Top 7 Most Popular Motivation Theories Used Today

This article also offers practical guidelines on using proven motivational theories to create a positive work environment that fosters productivity and job satisfaction.

Here is a high-level overview of the best and most common motivation theories used by employers today:

1. Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

Frederick Herzberg's Two-Factor theory of motivation is one of the most influential theories in the field. It states that two primary factors influence motivation: hygiene factors and motivators.

Hygiene factors refer to the basic needs that must be met for an employee to be satisfied with their job, such as salary, work conditions, and interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, motivators are aspects that contribute to job satisfaction and intrinsic motivation, such as recognition, growth opportunities, and challenging work.

Herzberg's theory is one of the simplest and most favoured motivational theories today due to only two essential parts.

2. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is another widely recognized motivation theory highlighting the different needs levels humans strive to fulfil. According to Maslow's theory, individuals have five basic needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization.

These needs are arranged in a pyramid where the most fundamental ones must be met before an individual can reach the next level. For employers, this theory emphasizes the importance of understanding their employees' needs and providing them opportunities for personal growth and development.

3. McClelland's Three Needs Theory

David McClelland's Three Needs Theory is based on the idea that individuals have three primary needs: achievement, affiliation, and power. According to this theory, these needs vary in intensity and can significantly influence an individual's behaviour and extrinsic motivation in the workplace.

The need for achievement refers to the desire to excel and succeed at challenging tasks, while the demand for affiliation is the desire for close interpersonal relationships. This theory is a great one to use, especially to support employee motivation in high-performance sales and marketing roles.

4. Taylor's Motivation Theory

Frederick Taylor's motivation theory, also known as the Scientific Management theory, focuses on improving employee efficiency and productivity through scientific methods. It emphasizes the importance of providing workers with clear instructions and training to perform their tasks most efficiently.

According to Taylor, employees are primarily motivated by financial incentives rather than social or emotional factors. He believed that by implementing a system of piece-rate pay, where workers are paid based on their output, employers could increase worker productivity and motivation significantly.

In more challenging economic times, this theory is a powerful one, and we are seeing a shift to employee incentives from companies like Google in the form of company shares, which is even further motivation for your employees to make your company succeed.

5. Mayo's Theory of Management

The Hawthorne studies conducted by Elton Mayo in the 1920s revolutionized how employers viewed employee motivation. Through these studies, Mayo discovered that productivity depends not solely on external factors such as work conditions and incentives but also on social and psychological factors.

Mayo's management theory emphasizes the importance of creating a positive work environment where employees feel valued and supported by their peers and superiors. He also highlighted the significance of communication and teamwork in promoting employee motivation.

6. General Theories: The Incentive Theory

Incentive theory suggests that individuals are motivated by external rewards and incentives. According to this theory, people are more likely to engage in certain behaviours if they believe it will lead to desirable outcomes or rewards. For employers, this means using a system of rewards and recognition to motivate employees.

Incentives can come in various forms, such as bonuses, promotions, gift cards, or even simple acts of appreciation like public recognition or a handwritten thank-you note. These incentives can be used to reinforce desired behaviours and performance, creating a culture of motivation and engagement within the workplace.

7. General Theories: Competence Theory

Competence theory, or self-determination theory, focuses on the role of personal competence and autonomy in motivation. According to this theory, individuals are motivated when they feel competent in their abilities and have control over their actions.

This theory emphasizes the importance of providing employees with opportunities for growth and autonomy. Employers can foster this by offering challenging work assignments, encouraging innovation and creativity, and involving employees in decision-making processes.

What Are The Advantages of Implementing Motivation Theories?

Motivation theories allow employers to understand their employees' needs and desires and focus on the strategies that yield the best results. This also leads to a more engaged and satisfied workforce, increasing productivity and retention rates.

For example, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs highlights the importance of fulfilling basic physiological and safety needs before addressing higher-level needs like self-actualization. Employers can use this theory to ensure their employees' fundamental needs are met, such as providing a safe work environment and fair compensation, before focusing on other motivators.

What Are The Foundations Of Every Motivation Theory?

When we look at all of the motivation strategies, there are commonalities across the board. Even if you don't want to adopt the method above, the theories of motivation can be boiled down to these ingredients:

Encourage personal growth and development

Motivation theories also emphasize the significance of personal growth and development for employee motivation. By offering opportunities for learning and advancement, employers can increase employee satisfaction and develop a skilled and knowledgeable workforce.

For instance, McClelland's Three Needs Theory suggests that individuals need achievement. Employers can tap into this need by providing employees with challenging projects or training programs that allow them to develop new skills and achieve their goals.

Promoting a positive work environment

Motivation theories highlight the importance of a positive work environment in promoting employee motivation. Employers can create an environment where employees feel valued, respected, and motivated to contribute their best efforts by fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace culture.

Mayo's Theory of Management emphasizes the role of social and psychological factors in motivation. Employers can apply this theory by encouraging teamwork, open communication and creating opportunities for social interaction among employees.

Listening closely

Motivation theories have a significant impact on enhancing overall employee performance. However, at the end of the day, nothing beats listening. 

One easy way to do this is with a tool like Vouch, where you can start softly by surveying your employees on what they love and don't love about your company. Naturally, you'll need to read between the lines, and this is where video can help, as you can see the emotions on your employee's faces.

When you listen, employees feel valued and like you care, and that is the biggest motivator of all.

Motivation Theories Increasing Employee Retention

Employee turnover can be costly for organizations in terms of time and resources. Motivation theories can help reduce turnover rates by addressing the underlying factors that cause employees to leave and ensuring those still in your team are motivated and moving forward.

For instance, Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory suggests that job dissatisfaction is caused by hygiene factors such as salary, benefits, and working conditions. By ensuring these factors are met, you can prevent employees from becoming dissatisfied with their jobs and seeking employment elsewhere.

5 Tips For Using Motivation Theories Right Now

Here are some tips to effectively apply motivation theories in the workplace in a minimal amount of time. Of course, you need to find the approach that also works for your company strategy - however, any advances in any of these areas are sure to yield a positive result.

1. Encourage open communication

It doesn't matter if your business is big, small, a remote team, etc., effective communication is crucial in creating a positive work environment and promoting employee motivation in any industry. This starts by encouraging open and transparent communication between employees and management to understand their needs better.

Regular feedback sessions using tools like Vouch, one-on-one meetings, and surveys can help employers gain valuable insights into what motivates their workforce.

2. Tailor incentives and rewards

The incentive theory suggests that external rewards can motivate individuals. However, tailoring these incentives and rewards to align with each employee's specific motivations is essential. For instance, an employee motivated by recognition may appreciate a public acknowledgment of their achievements, while another may prefer a monetary bonus.

It is not always great to have different incentives for different employees, but you need to look at all the positive and negative outcomes and make a decision on what will help your company grow.

3. Provide opportunities for growth

The expectancy theory highlights the importance of providing employees with opportunities for personal growth and development. Employers should offer training programs, mentorship opportunities, or challenging projects that allow employees to develop new skills and advance in their roles.

This enhances employee satisfaction and leads to a more skilled and productive workforce that is as invested in your company's success as you are invested in theirs.

4. Promote work-life balance

Recognizing the importance of work-life balance in employee motivation is key. Having flexible schedules, remote working options, or alternative work arrangements helps employees balance their personal and professional lives.

This can lead to improved job satisfaction and overall well-being, leading to higher levels of motivation and productivity in the workplace. 

5. Be mindful of individual differences

It's essential to remember that every employee is different and may be motivated by other factors. Employers should take the time to understand their employees' individual needs and tailor their strategies accordingly.

This can involve conducting personality assessments, understanding each employee's strengths and weaknesses, or simply having open and honest conversations about what motivates them.

Bonus: Continuously revisit and revise strategies

Motivation is not a one-time task, and you need to continuously revisit and revise your strategy to ensure you are meeting the changing needs of your employees. Regularly soliciting employee feedback (with tools like Vouch) also helps you grow your Employer Brand and motivation levels in the long run.

These tips can help employers effectively apply motivation theories to create a motivated, engaged, and productive workforce.



Q. What is the most powerful workplace motivator?

The most powerful workplace motivator varies from person to person, but some common motivators include recognition, growth opportunities, and a sense of purpose or meaning in the work being done. Employers must listen to their employees' motivations and tailor their strategies accordingly.

Q. What is the most successful method of motivation?

There is no singular "most successful" method of motivation, as every employee is unique and may be motivated by different factors. Some may respond well to external rewards, while others may find intrinsic motivation through personal growth opportunities.

Q. How do motivation theories explain the role of emotions in causing behaviours?

Motivation theories recognize the role of emotions in causing behaviours by understanding that feelings can either motivate or demotivate individuals. For example, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory acknowledges the importance of satisfying basic human needs such as safety and belonging before higher-level needs like self-actualization can be achieved.


Motivation theories are crucial in understanding what drives individuals to perform at their best in the workplace. By aligning individual goals with organizational objectives, addressing underlying factors that cause dissatisfaction, and tailoring strategies to fit individual needs, employers can create a more engaged and motivated workforce.

It's important for employers to listen and continuously revisit and revise their strategies to ensure they are meeting the changing needs of employees.

If you are looking for tools that help you better listen and understand your employees' motivations, be sure to book a demo to chat with an expert today.

Gary Zurnamer

Gary Zurnamer

Co-Founder and CEO of Vouch.

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