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Employees engaged at work
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The Engagement Drivers Behind 7 Common Motivational Quotes for Employees

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Stefanie Jansen

People are crazy about motivational quotes, aren’t they? We put them on t-shirts, artwork, and our desktop backgrounds to serve as constant reminders of the inspiration behind each message. There’s even a whole host of search results for motivational quotes for employees.

But since when is a quote going to satisfy all of the underlying drivers of employee engagement?

The truth is, if you think your employees are unmotivated, they’re most likely disengaged. While that’s not a problem a quote is ever going to solve, we can still take lessons from these words of wisdom by breaking down what they really mean and channeling them into true drivers of engagement.

Here at 15five, our employee engagement experts have spent years identifying and helping managers cater to 14 underlying drivers of employee engagement, including:

  • Utilization
  • Fairness
  • Competency
  • Autonomy
  • Purpose
  • Shared values
  • Role clarity
  • Friendship
  • Feedback
  • Manager
  • Trust
  • Professional development
  • Authenticity
  • PTO

Here are some of the most common motivational quotes for employees and how we can break them down to better understand what employees need to be successful.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”  – Albert Einstein

Autonomy & Trust
It’s inevitable—your employees will make mistakes. They’re human. But if they’re ever going to thrive and take your company to new heights, they have to be trusted to try new things and given enough slack to make mistakes in the process. Yes, new or historically problematic employees will require some guidance, but within reason, you must give your employees the autonomy to make decisions (whether big or small, depending on their role) and trust that they have the company’s best interest at heart. And more than that, you must be ok with letting your employees fail along the way.

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” – Simon Sinek

Utilization & Purpose
This quote plays on a give versus get mentality. But if you look closer, both scenarios are really asking for the same thing. We want to get something out of our experiences. When it comes to our work, this means being able to put more in, being a part of something special, and feeling like we’re making a difference in some way. Research shows that when employees feel their work has purpose and is consistent with their company’s core values, their employee experience index scores go up to 80 percent. If you want to see employee engagement and productivity increase, you must not only give your employees a sense of purpose, but also be able to tie their work into a shared mission. When people feel underutilized, underchallenged, and disconnected from the greater vision of the company, they see their work as a menial job that any other employee (or robot) could do.

“One cannot train someone to be passionate—it’s either in their DNA or it’s not.” – Richard Branson

Shared Values & Authenticity
Have you ever rejected a job applicant (or been turned down for a job yourself) because they weren’t a “culture fit?” It’s not just a break-up line—it’s a real (and very important) element to finding the right employees for your company. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people in the right seats on a company’s metaphorical bus. If the right people aren’t in the right seats, it may require some rearranging, or even having the wrong people get off the bus altogether. And if you’re truly committed to preserving your culture, you have to be willing to let otherwise remarkable candidates go if they just aren’t a right fit personality-wise. That’s why employee assessments and regular one-on-ones are a must. At the same time, employees must believe in the authenticity of company leaders and their commitment to the organization’s values and success. Without it, they’ll see right through inauthentic communications and forced camaraderie to reveal a watered-down company mission.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell

Role Clarity & Competency
A leader isn’t just someone who picks up and starts trudging toward the finish line. They’re smart enough to know they have to assess the situation first, understand their role in getting there, and then execute. But people can’t succeed if they don’t understand the role they play in achieving a goal. Employee engagement takes a huge hit when 1) people are constantly asked to do things outside of their wheelhouse and 2) they don’t understand how their role fits into the greater company mission. There’s a common misconception about leadership—that only a few are called to lead or that you have to have a certain list of qualifications and smarts to be a successful leader. But how can employees demonstrate their role competency if they don’t even understand what they’re being asked to do? As a people leader, your job is to give your employees the tools they need to become a better leader themselves. And sometimes, that’s as basic as making it clear what position they play on the team.

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Fairness & Manager
You’ve heard it time and time again. “People don’t leave companies. They leave managers.” But what is it that makes them leave their managers? Hollywood office spoofs portray poor managers doing everything from making idiotic comments to harassing employees (which are entirely possible in the real work world), but more likely, it’s a struggle of power and respect.

“My manager takes credit for my work.”

“He gives me all the grunt work.”

“She doesn’t appreciate anything I do.”

Successful managers aren’t there to be expert “doers.” They’re there to lead the doers to become experts themselves. By putting yourself in the shoes of your employees, treating them as you’d want to be treated, exercising fairness in what you’re asking them to do, and respecting them as people first, you’ll foster a relationship with your team members that gives them more freedom and confidence to excel.

“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” – Alan Cohen

PTO & Professional Development
One of the biggest factors in an employee’s disengagement is the feeling that they can’t take time off. This is usually because of a poor company PTO policy, or because if they leave, the team will suffer in their absence, and and create a mountain of work to return to. But without time to recharge one’s batteries, employees become burnt out, resulting in lost productivity anyway. For example, here at 15five, our employee engagement survey revealed that one of our teams had scored low on the driver of PTO, despite a very flexible time off policy. Upon following up, it was uncovered that employees felt they couldn’t take off because projects couldn’t progress without them. In response, they decided to take off a day together to avoid feeling overwhelmed upon return. By giving employees time for themselves or providing professional development policies and budget, you convey your commitment to people’s well-being, energizing them and driving them to work harder and more efficiently when they return.

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” – Bill Gates

Feedback & Friendship
As humans, we tend to avoid confrontation because we perceive it as a negative experience. But in the workplace, it turns out that giving and receiving feedback can actually be a positive, healthy, and profitable practice. In fact, lack of employee feedback can result in disengagement, prompting decreased productivity. Yet, it’s not an annual performance review on a sheet of paper that’s going to do the trick in improving performance. It’s regular human conversation on a weekly (if not real-time) basis. According to Globoforce, 71 percent of employees prefer to receive feedback as soon as possible. And that feedback can come from more people than just managers. With a network of teammates, peers, and leaders surrounding each employee, your people will feel empowered to give and receive feedback that will strengthen each person’s abilities, build long-lasting relationships, and foster camaraderie with teammates.

There’s no motivational quote in the world that can magically turn your people into engaged, thriving employees. But quotes come from real experience and a place of hardship that speaks the truth. If you think your employees are unmotivated, they’re most likely disengaged. Luckily, there’s something you can do about that.