What motivates an employee to do the best that they can? Why are some managers better at motivating employees than others? How can your company motivate their staff to be the best that they can be? This lesson will discuss these ideas and more.

Business English Motivation in the Workplace

Vocabulary – Expressions – Phrasal Verbs – Idioms:

Motivation – a positive feeling experienced by a person which encourages him or her to carry out a certain action in the correct way.

Lack of motivation – the opposite of motivation, but it also conveys a feeling of listlessness.

Don’t care attitude – behavior displayed by a person with poor motivation.

Motivators – factors which make an employee feel more positive about his or her job, and which create better performance. For example, being given more responsibility and recognition of achievement.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a classic model of motivation theory, where the most basic motivation is the need for safety, and the highest level of motivation is the need for self-actualization.

Self-actualization – the drive in a fulfilled human being to achieve or experience those things which feel most true to oneself. An example might be, climbing a mountain or listening to a symphony.

Self-motivation – the innate ability to produce a good performance when required, without being influenced by others. For example, the ability to get up early in the morning and study for an additional qualification at weekends.

Self-starter – someone with good self-motivation who can generally work on their own.

Drive – people with drive have the ability to push themselves to achieve success and reach their goals.

Job performance – a combination of the motivation to perform a task or carry out a role, and the ability to do it.

Effective discipline – sanctions which may be taken against underperforming or delinquent employees which actually work. For example, continuous lateness might result in pay being docked.

Positive reinforcement – rewarding desired behavior. For example, employees with a perfect timekeeping record for three months might receive an extra day off.

Setting clear goals – the development of relevant and clearly communicated objectives for an employee. So, not just, “I expect you to do your job properly”, but an explanation of what that actually entails.

Fair treatment – a corporate ethos whereby each individual receives the same consideration, and where people are treated humanely and with a degree of sensitivity.

Rewards – things which people receive as a result of doing their job well. These can be concrete, such as pay raises, or simple things such as a “Thank you” from the boss.

Incentive package – often a way of describing salary and associated perks that can also be used as a motivator.

Stick and carrot – a management system which alternately uses threats and promises to manage employees.

Theory X – proposed by Sigmund Freud, it assumes that most people are basically idle and lazy, and will only work under threat.

Theory Y – proposed by Douglas McGregor, suggests that people actually want to work, achieve and do well. People who are allowed to develop freely will achieve both for themselves and their organization. Very prevalent in American business thinking.

Hygiene factors – things which people must have in order to feel happy at work, such as clean, safe surroundings, proper wages, and fair supervision. Their presence is not necessarily motivating, but their absence is demotivating.

Business English Motivation in the Work place Live Example


Live Example:

Good productivity is a key need in all companies, and this can best be achieved with well-motivated employees. Companies need to ensure that the hygiene factors are in place – for example, fair wages and decent working conditions, but then they need to find rewards and management styles which will motivate people. These might include positive reinforcement, setting clear goals and effective discipline.

Recognizing that not everybody is self-motivated is important for managers, many of whom have plenty of drive and are self-starters, and may find it difficult to understand those who do not have those traits.

Motivation in the Workplace Live Conversation Example

Live Conversation Example:

Fred Gillett: I wanted to get your thoughts on the new crop of management trainees. What do you feel about their motivation?

Sue Arnold: On the whole, they are a good bunch, but one or two of them seem not to be self-starters. They wait to be told what to do, whereas the others seem to have more in the way of self-motivation. They are letting the team down in some ways.

Fred Gillett: I’m thinking of revising our incentive package, do you think that would improve performance?

Sue Arnold: Actually I doubt it – these kids respond better to setting clear goals, fair treatment, and positive reinforcement. After all, they are well paid for trainees. At this age, they are not so much motivated by money and perks, as by simple attention and feedback.

Fred Gillett: How about a team building exercise? Would that help improve motivation?

Sue Arnold: I think they’d rather have a night on the town if you want to give them a reward!

Motivation in the Workplace Practice



What motivates you to perform well at work?

Given the choice between a pay rise accompanied by a demotion, and a promotion with no pay rise, which would you choose?

How does your company motivate its junior employees?

Apart from Human Resources, which department or departments can play a key role in employee motivation?

Name five things which motivate you and five things which demotivate you.

If a person working for you shows a lack of motivation, what steps could you take to resolve the issue?

How does the concept of employee motivation differ between US companies and Asian companies?

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