Motivating Your Employees Based on Psychological Theory

With burnout rates peaking over the last couple years, motivating and keeping employees happy is top of mind. So, how can a page from a psychology book help?

Do you trust your employees? Psychological theory suggests you should! Trust is needed for employers to give their employees autonomy. Job autonomy of some sort should be incorporated into positions as much as possible. Here’s why:

What is job autonomy?

Employees have job autonomy when they are trusted, empowered, and equipped to make decisions about how, when, and where they work.

Why does it matter?

As humans, we want to feel like we are in control of our behaviors and decisions. The psychological theory of self-determination tells us autonomy helps people feel motivated and fulfilled. When you give employees choice, they feel more responsible for their role. They feel more invested in the ultimate outcome.

Give your employees power over task management, working hours, and working environment when possible. They will more likely see themselves as active contributors of your company’s success.

How are we falling short?

“Desk-based” workers have always had some level of autonomy. Sure, they must meet certain goals and expectations. But how they get there is typically up to them.

The remaining 80% of the world’s workforce doesn’t work at a desk. The amount of autonomy they have varies greatly. A Wag walker or an Uber driver may have tons of freedom, while many others have next to none. Nearly one in three workers have low or limited control. Employers know it too…only 6% of organizations feel their deskless workforce is “very autonomous.”

How can we close the gap?

There is no shortage of technology nowadays. Plenty of technology solutions can assist with autonomy in the workplace. Smartphones, wearables, and drones can complement and extend deskless workers’ capabilities. Tools like these can enhance decision-making and task management. Yet, not enough workers are equipped with technological tools. One study found only 6% of organizations relied entirely on digital processes for deskless work. By closing the technology gap, we can begin to close the autonomy gap for deskless workers.

What about employee engagement?

Gaining more autonomy has benefits, but can also come along with a bit of disconnect. Many deskless workers are used to interacting with co-workers daily. That may no longer be the case as their roles become more flexible. So it’s important to keep these employees engaged and connected. Utilize an employee engagement technology with points, nominations, eCards, a social engine, etc. Frequently recognizing and engaging employees will create an ongoing cycle of motivation. Plus, the tech can help create and keep connections between both desk-based and deskless workers!


Today, too many organizations are missing out on opportunities to empower and motivate workers with autonomy. Think about ways you can give both your desk-based and deskless workers autonomy. Invest in tech, get creative. It’ll result in positive outcomes for both employees and employer.