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Employees engaged at work
13 Min Read

Employee Engagement Quotes: Drivers Behind 7 Motivational Quotes

Cassandra Lowery

People have a fascination with motivational quotes. 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 organizational leaders and managers create meaningful, positive impacts on 17 drivers of employee engagement, including:

  • Autonomy
  • Capacity
  • Coworker Relationships
  • Fairness
  • Feedback
  • Goal Support
  • Leader Availability
  • Leader Integrity
  • Manager
  • Meaning
  • Professional Development
  • Psychological Safety
  • Purpose
  • Rest
  • Role Clarity
  • Shared Values
  • Utilization

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 & Role Clarity & Psychological Safety

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.

In addition, consider how role clarity and psychological safety impact an employee’s confidence and ability to accept more autonomy. Most organizations want their employees to have an ownership-mindset, willing to take the initiative to improve processes and positively impact the organization. However, how can employees have autonomy, if first, they don’t know what the core expectations and responsibilities are of their role and/or they don’t feel safe to voice their opinion in one-on-ones or team environments? Provide employees the support they need, then get out of their way and watch them thrive!

“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. 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. 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.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Shared Values & Leadership Integrity

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. If you’re truly committed to preserving your culture, you have to be willing to let otherwise remarkable candidates go if the combination of attributes they bring would not bring about a “culture add” to the team. Employee assessments and regular one-on-ones are a must. At the same time, employees must believe in the integrity 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.

At the team-level, shared values also reflect how successfully a team is working together. It’s about whether coworkers on a team share common values or a common vision towards the goals of the team and company. Is your team rowing in the same direction…or different directions? Beyond hiring the right people, it’s the responsibility of the manager to help motivate a team to break down silos and work together towards a common vision.

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

Role Clarity, Goal Support, Feedback & Capacity

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 chart a course in a way that leads where their people voluntarily go, not get dragged along. People may struggle to envision the value they bring when venturing into new directions and cannot succeed if they don’t understand the role they play in achieving goals. 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. So the question then becomes, 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 remove barriers and provide the necessary resources so that employees can build the tools they need to be successful, grow their value and influence and advance in their career.  This incredible opportunity for change and development starts with leaders clearly communicating the value and role each person must play in the organization’s overall success. When this is accomplished in a way where employees feel supported in achieving measurable goals, while receiving actionable, constructive feedback, and gaining confidence in their skills and abilities, you have yourself an engaging performance and development strategy!

“Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination.” – Warren Bennis

Fairness & Leadership

You’ve heard it time and time again. “People don’t leave companies. They leave managers.” What makes the manager/employee relationship so critically important? Hollywood office spoofs portray poor managers doing everything from making inappropriate comments to harassing employees (which unfortunately happens in the real world, too) that make it obvious why that relationship would break down and someone would feel compelled to leave that situation. Less obvious to most of us, is the existence of power struggles that may not necessarily turn outwardly disrespectful, but still erode away at the relationship in ways that make employees feel disrespected and ultimately choose to end the working relationship. 

While Fairness can certainly be impacted at the manager-employee level, it truly starts at the leadership level. Does your organization have fair processes, i.e. guardrails in place, to ensure every employee is treated fairly and with respect? Does your organization hold leaders and employees accountable to the same principles and practices? These are really important questions. While fairness may be built or broken down at all levels throughout the organization, it starts at the top with how leadership creates and influences the organization’s culture and practices. To put a number on it, when employees perceive their organization as fair, their performance goes up by 26% and employee retention goes up by 27%. However, only 18% of employees in a recent, worldwide Harvard Business Review survey agreed that their workplace was fair (2022).

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

Rest & Professional Development

One of the most overlooked factors in an employee’s overall engagement is the feeling that they can’t take time off. This is usually because of  company paid time off and leave policies that are insufficient in meeting the needs of their workforce. Workforce planning, staffing levels and the ability to attract, train, quickly skill up and retain staff also has a huge impact. The impact of this may be hidden in hesitancy to take time off because the team will suffer in their absence, and they will return to a mountain of work. Goals that are not attainable or achievable if employees utilize their paid time off benefits can also create unintended negative consequences. Without time to recharge one’s batteries, employees become burnt out, resulting in lost productivity. For example, here at 15five, our employee engagement survey revealed that one of our teams had scored low on the driver of Rest, 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. It is extremely important for leaders to be mindful of the impact of Rest on their people. While employees themselves may not list it high on their order of priorities, ignoring it can lead to unavoidable negative consequences for everyone.

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

Feedback & Coworker Relationships

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 (2013). That feedback can come from more people than just managers. One way to strengthen each employee’s skills and abilities is to surround them with a network of teammates, peers, and leaders who will empower them to give and receive feedback, build long-lasting relationships, and foster camaraderie with one another.

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.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Meaning & Utilization

Meaning, the hot topic in today’s workforce. No more are the days where employees show up to work for the paycheck and stay at the same organization for their whole careers. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the main one is that employees are searching for meaning in their roles and are willing to make a career change in order to find that connection. As Mcinsey & Company powerfully states, “Research has found that when employees find their work to be meaningful, their performance improves by 33 percent, they are 75 percent more committed to their organization, and are 49 percent less likely to leave.” It’s no coincidence that meaning is commonly the top influence driver in 15Five’s employee engagement survey. So, how can we impact meaning? Utilization! Utilization is about utilizing each employee’s skills and strengths to their full potential and challenging them in ways that encourage positive growth. What better way for an employee to feel like they are making an impact and doing fulfilling work than by focussing on their strengths and challenging them to grow even more?

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – John F Kennedy

Purpose & Leader Availability

Purpose is the north star of any organization! It sets the stage for many other pieces of an organization’s identity like mission, values, and key objectives. It can be a purpose focused on excellence around a product or service, around culture (people) or around social impact. It’s a way for an organization to stand out among the crowd – to customers and potential talent alike. All organizations want their employees to pick up the torch and be advocates of their org and to drive the purpose forward, but it needs to be strategic and driven intentionally down from the top. It needs to be embedded in all areas of the organization. This is why leader availability is a crucial piece of the equation. If employees rarely see or hear from their executive-level leadership team, chances are, silos exist and certain areas of the business are rowing in different directions. It’s important for employees to have leaders who are actively communicating the direction of the business through multiple avenues: all staff meetings, digital communications, success stories, etc. Employees also want visibility to leadership, they want to be seen and known for doing good work.

In conclusion, while motivational quotes can ignite inspiration, they alone won’t unlock the full potential of employee engagement. Here at 15Five, our experts have meticulously pinpointed 17 vital drivers that fuel the fires of employee engagement. When organizations place these elements at the forefront, they lay the foundation for workplaces where both employees and the organization itself can flourish and reach new heights of success. It’s not just about inspiring employees; it’s about creating an environment where they can thrive.

About the Author

Cassandra Lowery is a seasoned HR professional with a master’s in business psychology and an advisory role at for Employee Engagement & Productivity. Cassandra has leveraged her extensive experience to advise over 180 diverse organizations, enhancing their people strategies to optimize business outcomes.