How to engage and motivate your people at work

Energised team

There is no question that motivation ebbs and flows throughout the year. January is the month when the most people quit their jobs and February is when the world listens to the saddest songs on Spotify, but moods can change a lot at any time of year, for individuals and broader populations.

A lot has been written about Blue Monday, the third Monday of January that is supposedly the most depressing day of the year, but the phrase actually originated in a marketing campaign for a travel company and has no scientific basis. In fact, some experts believe that the concept trivialises mental health issues.

Conflating depression and demotivation is unhelpful for a variety of reasons, not least because it suggests that there is nothing leaders can do to overcome slumps in productivity. Instead, businesses should look at the problem of fluctuating productivity as an issue of engagement.

In this blog, we discuss how businesses can combat fatigue in their people and give teams a long-term boost.

The four motivators

Research suggests that there are four aspects to people’s motivation in their jobs:[1]

Autonomy: a sense of being in control so that behaviour is self-determined.
Belonging:the sense of fitting in and security.
Competence: a feeling of mastery and accomplishment.
Meaning: having purpose and understanding of how an action enacts it.

Of these drivers, meaning can be the most powerful but also the most complex to instil at work. Every organisation has a different purpose (at Lane4, we aim to build winning organisations and improve people’s working lives) but within that, individuals have ethical codes and personal interests that define what means the most to them.

If your people are driven by a desire to improve the lives of their clients/customers, then you can expect them to be engaged and motivated by their work (unless the other three factors are lacking). But many people are driven by non-work desires: to be a better parent, to make people happy, or to learn new skills and improve themselves. The challenge for businesses, therefore, is to tap into these motivations and help colleagues to align them with their day-to-day responsibilities.

Is one of your leaders feeling dissatisfied with how much time they spend away from their family? Think about how you can support them to “switch off” or work more flexibly. If someone feels most fulfilled when learning new skills, get their manager to discuss development paths and courses with them. Simple reward structures are not always enough to motivate people.

Solutions exist

There are some factors in employee engagement that HR teams can’t control, but by thinking about the four pillars of motivation, they can help people to find harmony between their work and their purpose.


For more information on the importance of meaning and purpose in the workplace, read our white paper The future of leadership: developing a new perspective.


[1] Lane4 Model of Motivation. Based on Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist55(1), 68. Thomas, K. W. (2009). Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.