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Shifting Work Motivations: Employee Well-Being Takes the Lead

Employees are calling for more personal freedoms and better working conditions. Here's how you can understand their motivations.

As a leader, do you care more about employee well-being or business performance? You want both, of course. You know that you can’t have one without the other. But employee well-being has taken on a new level of priority in organizations. It’s never been more important than it is now, and it’s never been more challenging for employees to be and stay well.

Trends in the workforce

On an individual basis, these changes are evident in employee engagement survey results, employee feedback, social media commentary and conversations with people at all levels of businesses. The shift significantly impacted the service industry. People in these front-line roles – especially those who continued face-to-face work over the past 18 months – are exhausted. And a recent survey showed that 95 percent of surveyed employees are considering leaving their jobs. Employees are rethinking their roles, adjusting personal and professional demands and reordering life priorities. This means their motivation for work is shifting.

How organizations responded

As a result, companies are implementing new policies to promote employee well-being. That includes adopting hybrid or fully virtual work arrangements, giving employees additional time off with pay to destress, offering additional wellness and mental health services and introducing fun activities to build employee engagement. They’re offering signing bonuses, higher wages and greater flexibility in working hours and how work gets done. And an increasing number of organizations are thinking about four-day workweeks and reduced working hours with no reduction in compensation. They recognize that employees want true diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.

Many are welcoming these changes. The balance of power shifted from employers having the upper hand to establish workplace policies to employees exerting greater influence. All of this while firms strive to retain staff in an increasingly competitive market. It’s also requiring leaders to think differently about how they lead and the strategies they use to support business performance.

The future of work

These shifts have been evolving for years, but they accelerated when the pandemic reverberated throughout the workplace. And now both the speed of change and the uncertainty of its direction are causing leaders to wonder about the future of work.

They realize employees are less willing to make concessions. In the past, they may have been willing to take on difficult assignments, relocate to unfamiliar or unattractive cities, work long hours for extended periods of time or accept roles that didn’t pique their interest.

Team members’ shifting motivations impact the entirety of their work experience.

  • How employees work such as project assignments, strategic approaches, communication, roles and responsibilities.
  • Where employees work and the subsequent impact on operating costs, business infrastructure, cybersecurity, collaboration and teambuilding to support results.
  • What they get from work including pay, pleasure and playtime.

How these elements will evolve is unclear.  Companies alternate between setting the pace and following the lead of others who appear to be responsive to shifting needs and employee requests.

Understanding motivations

There are several key steps leaders can take to understand the shifting motivations of their teams.

Author Priscilla Archangel
  1. Listen and suspend judgment. Ask your teams about what’s most important to them in their work. Don’t feel compelled to respond or make any decision yet. Just leverage curiosity to understand their passions and concerns. You can also begin by simply talking with colleagues and employees at other companies or any environment where you’re not viewed as a leader who must respond to employee concerns.
  2. Go for purpose. Find out what everyone on your team loves to do, what their strengths are and how can you tailor assignments to align with that. This doesn’t mean that everyone will love every assignment, but every assignment should be in service to what they love. It should build capability, perspective and knowledge to support their goals.
  3. Look for the shift. Recognize that the work motivations for each member of your team may have shifted. Even if they didn’t change, employees could still reprioritize their motivations. Assume something is different and dig in to find out what it is. 

An open approach to employee well-being

The adaptability and flexibility we’ve all learned over the past 18 months creates a springboard for our future. Going forward, leaders will face the challenge of measuring employee productivity differently. In many roles, the question of how much work is performed will clearly be outweighed by how much value is created. This was one of the pre-pandemic challenges in understanding the productivity of remote workers. Our definition of performance that “exceeds expectations” must change. This requires redefining trust, teamwork and collaboration to measure outcomes differently.

It’s difficult to determine what the future of work will look like. Still, leaders must be proactive and open to new approaches, transparent about what is and is not effective and responsive to the individual needs of their team members. Leaders need to understand the shifting motivations of employees, adjust their work models to fit them and remember that they too are employees first. They have the same needs.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit

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