What are the factors of motivation? (Types and theories)

Updated 7 June 2023

Motivation is an important element for every business operation to consider. It influences employees' level of enthusiasm for their job and commitment to the company. Understanding how to motivate your workforce can help you to increase employee satisfaction, improve productivity and ensure your business functions efficiently. In this article, we explore the factors of motivation, including different leadership styles and how effective they are.

Related: What are intrinsic rewards and how to use them at work

What are the factors of motivation?

If asked, 'What are the factors of motivation?', it would be accurate to say they are strategies that motivate employees to perform their duties well. There are several different factors of motivation, including incentives and rewards. Different things motivate different types of people, so it's a good idea to assess which factors motivate which employees. Sometimes, this may include public approval, monetary rewards or additional days off work. With others, it may be job satisfaction, pride in their work or simply a feeling of accomplishment at having achieved a goal.

Here are examples of commonly recognised factors of motivation:


Recognition is an important motivational factor. Recognising a job well done can make an employee feel appreciated and encourage them to continue this level of performance. Acknowledging good work can sustain an employee's motivation.

Reward system

We can often link reward with recognition, which by itself has a limited value. Excellent work merits a reward, which is more likely to motivate employees than recognition alone. Rewards don't necessarily involve payment, although a monetary bonus for exceeding an ambitious sales target or achieving a substantial reduction in operating costs can be appropriate. But rewards can also be a free weekend hotel break, a spa day, shopping vouchers or even an extra day tacked onto their annual leave. Rewards can encourage employees to exceed expectations.

Career progression opportunities

Offering employees opportunities for career development not only adds to their skills but can also help them to become more efficient and productive in their job. The chance to gain additional skills can motivate employees to work towards promotion within the company. It also reduces the risk of employees looking elsewhere for better career prospects.

Offering additional training shows employees that the company values them. It may show you acknowledge their potential and support their ambitions. Additional training doesn't always mean spending money. If your training budget is tight, you can search online for relevant free courses or webinars.


A good leadership style can inspire company loyalty and motivate employees to perform well. It helps employees to set goals and acknowledges when they achieve them. Different types of employees respond to different leadership styles, which include:

  • Affiliative: This type of leader focuses on a company's people and their work relationships to ensure a harmonious workplace. While it promotes a happy work environment, it can lead to poor performance if harmony is prioritised over business objectives.

  • Authoritative or autocratic: This is the perhaps the least effective type of leadership and is unlikely to be popular with employees. This type of leader makes decisions, such as setting goals or implementing procedures, without consulting anyone else, even those employees who may feel the impact of these decisions.

  • Bureaucratic: This type of leader doesn't like to deviate from established procedures. They may consider employees' input but tend to reject innovative suggestions because they're comfortable with the existing processes that have proved successful in the past.

  • Coaching: This leader identifies and develops individual employees' strengths while also focusing on strategies to improve teamwork. Promoting individual employee growth and success helps to create a team of employees with varied skills and areas of expertise.

  • Democratic: This is possibly the most effective type of leadership. The democratic leader bases decisions on input from team members.

  • Laissez-faire: This type of leadership allows employees to design office policies regarding issues such as working hours or dress code. While a leader may trust responsible employees, it's important that the leader doesn't lose control altogether.

  • Strategic: These leaders maintain responsibility for the company's interests while upholding stable working conditions for employees. While this style supports different types of employees, it can be difficult to manage a large and diverse workforce.

  • Transactional: This type of leader rewards employees according to their performance, offering incentives and bonuses for achieving targets or beating deadlines. If these incentives combine with easily attainable goals, there's a risk that this leadership style may encourage nothing more than adequate performance.

  • Transformational: These leaders continuously try to improve productivity, setting challenging and sometimes unachievable goals. While such goals may motivate some employees, others may find it beyond their capabilities and become discouraged.

Related: Using motivation in management to help your team succeed

Company culture

Company culture can be a major factor in employee motivation. It can inspire employees to stay with the company for the long-term or it can drive them away. Positive company culture makes employees feel valued and supported.

Work environment

Similar to company culture, a positive work environment can also motivate employees. This means both the physical and non-physical work environments. The physical environment includes things like office space, staff facilities and outside garden areas. The non-physical environment includes communication, both between employees and with management.

Work-life balance

Employees with a healthy work-life balance are less likely to experience burnout from overworking. The employee who repeatedly works extended hours is likely to be the one who eventually suffers from burnout. While overtime is sometimes necessary, it's important to monitor it and ensure employees work reasonable hours.

Related: Coping with burnout from work (with symptoms and causes)

Flexible work schedules

Allowing employees to design their work schedules can be a good motivational exercise. This could mean allowing someone to work flexitime to accommodate family commitments. Another may prefer to work some hours remotely from home, while someone else may concentrate better later in the day than in the early morning. Employees who choose their work timetables are likely to create schedules that suit them best and contribute to their efficiency.

Financial rewards

Money is usually only a motivating factor for employees who are struggling to meet their financial obligations. Providing a salary increase to reward consistently outstanding performance can motivate an individual. Also, a bonus for employees or entire teams that exceed a target or achieve a goal can boost overall motivation.

Job security

Employees are more motivated when they know their jobs are safe, so reassuring them of this is helpful. It's also important for employees to feel they're contributing to the business as a whole rather than just performing their individual jobs. Informing them of any changes in company strategy or direction can make them feel they're valuable assets to the business and therefore worth keeping on the payroll.


There are still some employers who believe that fear is a motivation factor. They argue that if employees understand that poor performance or undesirable behaviour may have consequences, such as suspension without pay or employment termination, they're likely to maintain an acceptable standard of work and behaviour. In such cases, fear is less a motivation and more of a deterrent.

Theories of motivation

Motivation theory aims to understand what inspires people to work towards achieving a specific goal or result. Different philosophies have yielded different theories. The following are a few of the better-known theories of motivation:

Maslow's hierarchy of need theory

Abraham Maslow based his theory on human needs, which he classified into a hierarchical manner. He believed that satisfaction of a given level of need no longer motivates the person. Thereafter, the next level of need requires activation.

Hertzberg's two-factor theory

Frederick Hertzberg proposed a two-factor theory that focuses on motivation and hygiene (the circumstances at work). He believed that the work, personal growth, recognition, achievement, responsibility and advancement all promote a sense of satisfaction and increase motivation. Conversely, if employees feel discontented with their working conditions, status, security, salary, work relationships, leadership or company policies, then these factors can decrease motivation.

Related: 19 ways to increase staff motivation at work

McClelland's theory of needs

David McClelland's theory groups individuals into three categories:

  • Affiliation: Those who prefer teamwork and collaboration over competition or working independently. They're often motivated by affiliation factors.

  • Achievement: Those who set goals and strive to accomplish them, enjoy working alone and often take calculated risks, want feedback on their accomplishments and are motivated by achievement.

  • Power: Those who prefer to influence and supervise, enjoy status, recognition and winning arguments. They're often motivated by power.

McGregor's participation theory

According to Douglas McGregor, employees belong to one of two groups:

  • Theory X: It assumes that people are inherently lazy, lack ambition, dislike responsibility and prefer others to lead. They're self-centred, indifferent to organisational needs and are generally gullible and not too bright.

  • Theory Y: It assumes that people are not passive or resistant to organisational needs, they want to assume responsibility and they want their organisation to succeed. They direct their behaviour and desire to achieve.

McGregor's X and Y theories outline the extremes. In reality, no individual belongs to either group. Most people alternate between the two according to changes in mood and environment.

Vroom's theory of expectancy

Victor Vroom based his theory on the idea that three variables determine people's behaviour, such as performance, effort and outcome. It assumes people make conscious choices. They're motivated to make more of an effort when they believe there's a relationship between the effort they put in, the performance they achieve and the outcome or reward they receive.

Explore more articles

  • How to become a music supervisor (with steps and skills)
  • How to become a mechanical engineer (With steps)
  • Work in Norway: tips for relocation and recruitment
  • FAQ: What is counselling experience and how do you gain it?
  • A Step-by-Step Guide on How To Become a Cruise Ship Nurse
  • What does a scrub nurse do? (With skills and FAQs)
  • How to become an assembly operative: a useful guide
  • 15 careers in food (with duties and average salary)
  • 8 jobs on a cargo ship (With salaries, skills and tips)
  • Types of jobs in carpentry (with role and responsibilities)
  • 10 types of editor roles (with primary duties and salary)
  • 15 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance (With Duties and Salary)