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How motivation works and how it differs from engagement.


Motivation compels people to act. This force can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Carrot and stick kind of stuff. Typically, engaged people are intrinsically motivated. Or…is it the other way around? How does motivation work? And how does it differ from engagement?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow first introduced his concept of a hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. His subsequent book “Motivation and Personality” suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs.

Maslow visualised how motivation works as a pyramid. The lowest levels of the pyramid are made up of the most basic needs. The more complex needs are located at the top of the pyramid. Basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid include the need for food, water, sleep, and warmth. Once these lower-level needs have been met, people can move on to the next level psychological and self-fulfillment needs.

Maslow’s theory states that:

  • Each individual’s needs must be satisfied at the lower levels
  • then they progress to the higher, complex levels
  • When low-level needs are satisfied, individuals are no longer motivated by them
  • As each level of needs is met, individuals progress to higher-level motivators
  • All the needs are always present

Every person is capable of, and has the desire to, move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualisation. Unfortunately, failure to meet lower level needs often disrupts progress. Life experiences including divorce and loss of job may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy. Maslow noted that only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualised.

Frederick Herzberg’s motivation and hygiene factors

Herzberg was the first to show that satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work nearly always arise from different factors. These are not simply opposing reactions to the same factors. He stated that the presence of certain factors truly motivate (motivators), whereas the absence of others tended to lead to dissatisfaction (hygiene factors). You have to resolve these hygiene factors before motivators can be effective.

Herzberg’s has a two-factor theory around how motivation works. He concludes that certain factors in the workplace result in job satisfaction (motivators), while others (hygiene factors), if absent, lead to dissatisfaction but are not related to satisfaction. Herzberg uses the name hygiene factors because absence can cause health deterioration.

The factors that motivate people can change over their lifetime. Some claimed motivating factors are: Achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth. Some hygiene factors are: company policy, supervision, working conditions, interpersonal relations, salary, status, job security, and personal life.

Pink’s Theory of Motivation

Daniel Pink released his New York Bestseller entitled Drive in 2010. In the insightful work, Pink argues that the carrot and stick approach, while effective in the 20th century, is not relevant for today’s workforce. Pink combined scientific knowledge from the last 30 years with an appreciation of what today’s businesses actually want. He devised a straightforward and modern approach. You can tailor this to suit an organisations’ needs.

Drive examines the three elements of how motivation works :



When you focus more on the output rather than the time or schedule of employees. Allow employees to have flexibility over when they can complete tasks. MyBig5 allows you to do just that by allowing employees to set weekly goals, whenever they want.


Don’t dictate how employees should complete their tasks. Provide initial guidance and then allow them to tackle the project in the way they see fit, rather than having to follow a strict procedure. In MyBig5 you can use the review section or the feedback per goal to give initial guidance on an employee’s goals.


This can be one of the hardest forms of autonomy to embrace: allowing employees some choice over who they work with. By providing open-source projects and tasks, they have the ability to assemble their own teams.


Allow employees to have regular creative days where they can work on any project or problem that they wish. Evidence shows that creative free time generates many new initiatives. In MyBig5 our framework encourages one weekly personal or team goal, allowing for regular creative goals.


Create an environment where mastery is possible. Four essentials foster an environment of learning and development:

  • Autonomy. In MyBig5 that is a core element of our app.
  • Clear goals. MyBig5 is all about aligning clear company objectives with individual goals.
  • Immediate feedback. At any time, anyone can give feedback to anybody else in MyBig5.
  • Goldilocks tasks – not too difficult, and not too simple


Place equal emphasis on purpose maximisation as you do on profit maximisation. The attainment of profit goals has no positive impact on a person’s well being and can actually have the opposite effect! Organisational and individual goals should focus on purpose as well as profit. Many successful companies are now using profit as the catalyst to pursuing purpose, rather than the objective.

When we onboard new companies on MyBig5, we coach the leadership to have a balanced scorecard approach to setting company wide OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). We encourage the leadership to go beyond the typical financial objectives, and aim for customer satisfaction and employee engagement as well.

So what about engagement then?

By now it should be clear that motivation and engagement are two different things. “Engage for success” is a voluntary movement promoting employee engagement as a better way to work that benefits individual employees, teams and whole organisations. They define employee engagement as: “Employee engagement is a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organisation to give of their best each day, committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.” Notice that motivation is only a part of the definition.

That is why we have incorporated an employee engagement survey in MyBig5. There is nothing better than regularly measuring employee engagement so you know where you stand. You can run this survey at any time, and the AI (artificial intelligence) engine will provide better and better insights the more you run the survey.

Book a demo with our team now so we can show you how to improve staff motivation and consequently, employee engagement.