< back to articles listings

Employee Engagement -- It’s Not the Money that Motivates

by Sarah Levitt |

If your firm or organization is running lean, tapping the discretionary effort of employees is an effective way to get more from less.  And leadership is at the heart of that gain.  When an employee walks through the office door, they choose whether to bring all of their talents and efforts, or leave some behind in the parking lot.  Motivation comes from within, but it can be squelched, and leaders and managers are in a powerful and unique position to influence the culture of work that ultimately supports or dissuades the engagement and effort of team members. 

So, what encourages employees to give their all?  During my workshops on employee engagement, I frequently hear about leaders who create workplaces where people feel they can advance and flourish, who inspire employees to bring their best.  But I also hear narratives of workplace cultures that stifle, rather than encourage, participation.  I hear about the frustration of unclear expectations, the mistrust that the watchful eye of a micromanager generates, and the demoralization of being undervalued or unseen.  Though the list is long for those things that discourage motivation and engagement, money rarely, if ever, makes the list.  But lack of good leadership does.   

Why is it that leadership matters so much to employee engagement?  After all, leaders are responsible for lots of moving parts – investors and return, margin, market share, and overall company performance, to name a few.  Employee engagement is a piece of the overall picture.  But leaders play a critical role in shaping and influencing workplace culture, those explicit and implicit norms and expectations that shape and drive an organization.  And it’s that culture that either supports employee engagement or stifles it.     

The following three strategies can help establish a workplace culture that motivates and engages the discretionary effort of team members:

  1. Value and reward curiosity and questions.   Creating a culture of curiosity where opinions, questions, and input are valued also creates a foundation for greater innovation and a better competitive edge.  And in today’s economy, if we’re not innovating, we’re losing our future.  The simple question, “What do you think?” is probably one of my favorites for managers to use to engage team members.  When team members feel safe to express their opinions or questions, they feel valued and make better contributors for the company.
  2. Keep standards high and consistent. Engaging employees is not about lowering the bar of achievement or expectation.  Rather, great leaders know that team members want to give their all when expectations are clear and effort matters.  Few things are more demoralizing than trying to aim for a target that’s changing or inconsistent.
  3. Lead by example.  We’ve all heard this.  And most of us interpret it as setting a high standard of hard work and achievement.  Nothing wrong with that.  Except that for most of my executive coaching clients, setting a standard of hard work is not something they lack.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  They give tremendous effort to the demands of their positions often not mindful of replenishing and renewing themselves.  And absent that renewal, it becomes harder to sustain the skills of empathy and self-awareness, which facilitate connection to employees.  (Ever tried to have a difficult conversation while exhausted?)  By finding time to renew and refuel themselves, leaders are able to avoid burnout and the other ravages of chronic high stress, and in turn, be more effective with those they lead. 

The benefits of enhanced employee engagement are many: lower turnover, greater ease of recruiting top talent, retained intellectual capital, reduced training costs, and greater reputation in the community.  Both from a financial and human capital perspective, employee engagement makes sense.  And leaders play a key role in creating the culture of work that supports enhanced employee engagement.

Sarah Levitt is an executive coach and keynote speaker who helps individuals and their organizations overcome obstacles, enhance team performance, and reach their greatest potential.  She specializes in employee engagement and motivation, leadership and organizational resilience, and executive development.  For more information: sarah@sarah-levitt.com or www.sarah-levitt.com

About the Author

Sarah Levitt



Sarah Levitt is an executive coach who works with senior executives to assist them in becoming magnificent leaders.  She is also a speaker whose topics include building high performing teams, leadership resilience, and The Making Magnificence Project™. 

Read More by Sarah >

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Newsletter Signup