Bakers Journal

Fresh Trends: Motivating the Un-motivated

April 21, 2021
By Liz Uram

Don’t give up too soon on your staff: You could be asking the wrong questions to unlock their drive

When Mary started working, she was enthusiastic, energetic, and consistent. She got along well her co-workers and was known for her superior customer service skills. 

Over time something changed. Mary began starting work late, leaving early, and taking long lunches. Interactions with co-workers usually turned into complaint sessions. Customers were frustrated. John, Mary’s manager, was at his wits end. He wanted Mary to return to the level of work he knew she was capable of. He tried money. Then, he tried disciplinary action. Both resulted in short-term change that didn’t last. 

If this situation sounds familiar, don’t give up: The challenge is determining what motivates employees. 

Asking an employee outright what motivates them usually doesn’t work. Look for clues that identify the motivational factors of each individual.


Here are six common motivational factors and the clues to look for:

1.Belonging: People motivated by a sense of belonging get energized by being part of a group. 

You’ll find them coming up with creative ideas for celebrations or social events. Listen for what they do outside of work. Do they spend a lot of their free time with friends and family? Do they participate in group events like book clubs or sports teams? 

Keep this employee motivated by asking them for ideas; designate them as the celebration coordinator. Include them in projects.

2.Influence: A formal leadership title isn’t needed to have influence. Many are happy with an informal leadership role where they can influence others. 

You can identify them by their willingness to speak for the group. They are the ‘go-to’ person when others need answers or reassurance. They are the person the team looks to for direction.

Keep this employee motivated by asking them for their opinion on matters that affect the group. “How do you think the team is going to react to this change?” is a simple, yet very effective way to let this person know that their position within the group is clear.

3. Appreciation: A sincere thank you is what motivates employees with this motivational factor. They just want acknowledgement for their efforts.

Employees who are motivated by appreciation talk a lot about their accomplishments. They might come to their one-on-one with a list of what they’ve done. Managers who don’t understand what clues to look for may mistakenly assume the person is full of themselves or bragging. These employees are looking for some appreciation. 

Keep these employees motivated by giving sincere, specific, and timely appreciation for their efforts. Catch them in the act of doing something right and comment on it immediately.

4. Achievement: People who are motivated by achievement are always looking to outdo themselves. While they enjoy friendly competition, they are more interested in pushing themselves.

They are usually self-starters who take an interest in their productivity. They set goals both professionally and personally. They love the feeling of accomplishment when they can check off a goal and then they are on to the next one.

Keep them motivated by communicating key performance measures, encouraging them to set bigger goals, and sharing their progress with them on a regular basis. 

5. Security: People with this factor have a high need for job or financial security. Anything that threatens their sense of security can demotivate them.

They might obsessively worry about their performance. They ask a lot of questions. They are excessively concerned about change. Some managers assume the person is needy: They need security, reassurance, and confidence. 

A manager can help this employee by taking time to answer questions; communicating changes early and often; and boosting their confidence by giving them opportunities to prove they are capable.

6. Growth: Employees have career goals and they want opportunities to advance.  

One of the most obvious clues is asking about career advancement when they interview for a job. They’re willing to take on extra responsibility in order to prepare.

Keep them happy and motivated by asking what they interested in doing next and creating a career path for them that clearly outlines a plan for advancement. Delegating projects could provide growth opportunities if you can’t promote them.

Back to John and Mary. Once John saw the clues, he realized that what Mary really wanted was appreciation. John wasn’t known for giving out verbal praise but he was willing to give it a try. Instead of waiting for Mary to tell him about her accomplishments, he looked for opportunities to praise her. Before long, John saw improvements in Mary’s attitude and she began to have the same energy and enthusiasm she had when she started.

It wasn’t easy for John to get out of his comfort zone, but it was a lot less expensive and stressful than what he had been doing. 

Before you give up on an unmotivated employee, challenge yourself to search for clues about how to motivate them. You might be surprised at what a big change can come from a small adjustment to handling motivation issues.

Liz Uram is a nationally-recognized speaker, trainer, consultant, and author. She equips leaders with the tools they need to communicate like a boss so they can make a bigger impact, get better results, and motivate others to do their best.  With 20 years of experience, she’s developed systems that work. Uram’s written four books packed full of strategies leaders can implement to get real results, real fast. For more information, please visit

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