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Employee motivation:
the science and reality in the modern workplace

Every organization understands the value of motivated employees. So, why do so few actually put it on the agenda? In fact, one could easily argue that a lack of motivation led to phenomena like quiet quitting and the Great Resignation. How does employee motivation work, and which companies are good at it?

The science of employee motivation

Motivation is a complex and multifaceted concept. It’s rooted in psychological and social factors. But it’s also the driving force that propels us to act and strive for our goals. What exactly fuels this drive? Let’s look at two scientific theories: Self-Determination Theory and Expectancy Theory.

Employee motivation theories

The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is about being motivated by three basic psychological needs:

  • Autonomy

  • Competence

  • Relatedness

Autonomy refers to the need for control and freedom in our actions. Competence is about feeling effective and capable in daily activities. Relatedness is feeling connected to others, and feeling a sense of belonging. When these needs are met, we experience greater motivation. We also feel better in general.

In the workplace, you can look at the SDT in different ways. At Corporate Rebels we are big on the power of self-management. When employees have autonomy and can shape their roles, they feel more competent and connected to their teams. You can hardly find a bigger motivator than that.

Expectancy Theory, on the other hand, suggests that motivation is driven by expectations of the outcomes of our actions. In other words, you’re motivated to act in a certain way if you believe that your actions will lead to a desired outcome. This theory emphasizes the direct link between performance and rewards. People will try to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, according to the theory.

In the workplace, this means rewards become more important. In this theory, if employees put in effort, this leads to good performance. This performance will then be rewarded, and therefore they will be more motivated to work hard. A positive connection between effort and result is made.

How to boost employee morale and motivation

We see this in action when we set clear and achievable targets in collaboration with employees. But we don’t see money as the reward to strive for. We believe that purpose is a strong motivator. It’s not just us, research backs this up.

Our blog provides insights into the science of motivation (amongst other things). We like to explore real-world examples and look at practical strategies and tools for boosting employee motivation in the workplace. Most of these blogs highlight the importance of understanding the psychological drivers of employees and the role of intrinsic motivation in employee well-being and performance. To put it simply: purpose boosts success.

For instance, our blog ‘Why We Should Not Punish Intrinsic Motivation’’, features an interview with Tom van der Lubbe, co-founder of Viisi. This is a Dutch financial services company, that implemented a unique remuneration system that aims to preserve the intrinsic motivation of employees. Works like a charm. In fact, in our course ‘how Viisi works’, you can learn exactly how they did it. No need to reinvent the wheel!

The Great Resignation: How To Stop Losing Your Talent’ discusses the current trend of employees leaving their jobs, often due to a lack of motivation. These jobs didn’t meet their psychological needs. A lot of people went out to find what truly drives them. It also underlines why employee motivation deserves attention on a company level.

Employee motivation in real life: learn from these companies

As we travel the globe to visit the world’s most interesting workplace pioneers, we like to look at real-world examples. In these places (amongst many others), employee motivation is well above average.


Google is renowned for its unique approach to employee motivation. The company offers quite a few fascinating perks to its employees, including free organic food, health checkups, and even nap pods. These benefits show that Google is investing in overall employee well-being and their future, which reflects on motivation.


Patagonia, an American clothing company, is known for its environmental and social responsibility. The company’s mission to ‘build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. This resonates with the values of employees and led to high levels of motivation.


Zappos, a company that embraced Holacracy, has a peer-to-peer rewards program that allows employees to recognize and reward each other’s hard work. This creates a sense of community and appreciation, which makes sure people stay close to their values. It motivates everyone to perform at their best.


Viisi is a Dutch financial consultancy that has an interesting vision: employees first, customers second, shareholders last. They also implemented a unique remuneration system. At Viisi, there’s radical transparency. Also in salaries. Everyone knows what their own salary will be, and what coworkers (and the founders) earn. They did this, so rewards wouldn’t get in the way of intrinsic motivation. So you can imagine the true motivation there.


Finext, a Dutch financial consultancy, operates with a trust-based model. There are no budgets, no targets, and no managers. Employees have the freedom and responsibility to make decisions. Interviews with them show high levels of motivation (and some challenges).

Many more organizations have it figured out. You find many of them on our bucket list.

Employee motivation, productivity, and the power of purpose

At Corporate Rebels, we don’t underestimate the power of employee motivation. In fact, it’s one of our fundamentals. When employees are motivated, they simply do their best work. That leads to increased productivity, innovation, and overall business success.

Our mission is to ‘make work more fun’. Or at least purpose-driven. When you like what you do, you’re always motivated. This is why we focus on workplaces that are not just productive, but also enjoyable and fulfilling.

Of course, we understand that motivation is personal and will vary greatly from one individual to another. And that every person in the world has the occasional bad day. This is why we advocate for autonomy, with organizational structures like self-management and radical transparency. When everybody can do what works best for them, the team benefits.

Purpose & values: an important driver for employee motivation

Moreover, we believe in the power of purpose. We’ve seen (from companies like Viisi) that when employees connect with the organization’s purpose, motivation levels soar. It doesn’t have to be described in a 100-page manifesto. Purpose and values can be simple, yet clear. This draws talent that aligns with these values, which is an incredible motivator on its own.

We believe that employee happiness and motivation is something that should be put on the agenda company-wide. By creating work environments that cater to the drivers of employees, while also aligning with the organization’s mission and goals. This is the future of work we envision.

To help you with moving into that direction, we have built a strong community and offer comprehensive and hands-on courses.

Organizations like Viisi and Buurtzorg have it figured out. Even though they may operate in different industries, we can learn from them. We have distilled their mission and strategies in comprehensive courses. You can get straight to the point.

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