How to motivate employees in the workplace
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How to motivate and inspire employees

In the 1940s, an American psychologist created a theory that defined how we prioritize what is essential in society. Abraham Maslow's ‘hierarchy of needs’ looked at which structural and emotional building blocks must be in place for people to find happiness. These same principles can be applied to work environments to increase your people’s satisfaction and motivation. 

However, meeting the standards of the professional hierarchy of needs is only possible with the right structural support to create great people experiences. Technology built with people in mind will help you build journeys that can take you to the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (level five: self-actualization). This is where Maslow says motivation increases and individuals have the desire "to become the most that one can be.” 

What makes employees happy with their job?

When Maslow created the hierarchy of needs, he looked at what practical and emotional elements were required to help people become the best versions of themselves. There were five levels to his theory, and each level had to be fulfilled before you could move up to the next in order to become self-actualized at level five eventually. 

While the hierarchy was developed for personal wellbeing, Maslow’s framework can be mapped to the professional environment. It helps employers offer more significant support and development opportunities to their workforce and increase motivation. 

Levels 1 & 2 – motivating employees: getting the basics right

The first two levels are physiological needs and safety. In the traditional pyramid, these basic requirements are essential resources we need to sustain ourselves – air, water, food, shelter, sleep.  

However, in the professional environment, the foundation of a healthy workplace culture is providing people with the tools they need to do their job effectively.  

Independent research by DJS Research, which Unit4 commissioned, found that on average companies lose 552 hours every year to administrative or repetitive tasks, which is equivalent to one-third of the working year. With this in mind, organizations need to think carefully about the infrastructures and technologies they put in place to automate or speed up many mundane activities so that your people can focus on higher-value (and more satisfying) work.  

In addition to streamlining repetitive tasks, introducing centralized business technology makes it much easier for your people to work together towards common objectives. This is because data insights can be extracted and utilized across the business so that operational statistics from areas such as sales, finance and HR can be combined with qualitative information, such as purchase intent and customer feedback. All helping to rationalize and enhance decision-making. It’s an approach that benefits both your people and your customers. 

Levels 3 & 4 – motivating employees: creating a collaborative culture

Once you have the basics in place, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs then turns to the emotional building blocks we require for survival: love, belongingness, and esteem. This means things like a connection to others, a sense of community, and the worth needed to value our role in society. 

In the business world, this translates to creating a climate of collaboration and recognition, where each person feels that they have a distinct value. 

To build this culture, companies need an effective way to measure people’s workplace satisfaction, to see which areas of the business require improvement. 

There may be more significant technology investment required to ensure that not only is each person working at their most productive level, but that they can respond to colleagues’ needs in an agile manner so that every team member has a reliable support network. 

Level 5 – motivating employees: self-actualization

The summit of Maslow's hierarchy is a state called 'self-actualization,’ a state in which people actively want to become the best version of themselves. 

Self-actualized employees are highly motivated to improve their own performance and often seek ways to add value to their employers. They are open to trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths. They listen to their instincts when evaluating experiences, instead of blindly following tradition, authority, or the majority. They are prepared to be unpopular if their views do not coincide with those of the majority — if it means doing things better. And they take responsibility seriously, working hard to meet (and sometimes exceed) company goals.   

To support people at the pinnacle of their performance, organizations need to provide their people with the information and evidence they need to challenge the status quo. They also need to give staff the platform they need to communicate their ideas beyond the realms of a small team so that other areas of a much larger business may benefit. 

How to make employees more productive

If Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us anything about business culture, it is that great employee experiences are built from the ground up. Strong foundations are essential for long-term success, and a vital part of strengthening these foundations is the choice of business software and the direction it sets you on.  

Your people can’t reach the highest levels of self-actualization if you don’t give them the basics to work within the first place. Only then can you build a place where engaged and motivated people feel happy with their day-to-day. 

But this comes from your ability to understand the needs of your people and fulfil them. As only once your people feel safe, satisfied, and supported — belonging to something bigger than themselves can they become ‘self-actualized’.  

And this will come down to how you support them. Not only do you need to engage them and motivate them to do more, but you also need to give them the tools to take action. Only then can you transform your culture. 

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Ways to motivate employees – how Unit4 can help

Unit4’s People Experience suite of tools is built with people at its heart. Focus on transforming day-to-day workloads, removing the mundane and unnecessary and letting people focus on work that matters.  

Our solutions help you give your people the tools they need to do more, more efficiently. Take a look at our People Experience Suite to find out more. 

Image of Lisa Dodman - Chief People Officer at Unit4

Lisa Dodman

Unit4 Chief People Success Officer

Lisa has spent 25 years in HR working globally within generalist roles, and 18 years in the software industry largely in ERP and PLM organizations. Used to defining strategy and driving business transformations, Lisa has been instrumental since joining Unit4 in 2015, refocusing the business on talent enablement, leadership development, millennial hiring and engagement