Boosting Employee Engagement and Work Motivation

In a study by Shawn Achor, who shared a word at TED on “The happy secret to better work”, showed that employees worked 31% more productively under positive stress. This statistic is found to be valid across different professions; for example, sales staff were performing 37% stronger and doctors were coming up with accurate diagnoses 19% faster.

Having stress at work is unavoidable and it might not be a bad thing to have if applied correctly. A work environment with positive stress management creates more engaged employees and hence improved business performance. According to Dale Carnegie, companies with more engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202%.

Asia the Place That Never Sleeps

Regionally, APAC has a low score of 5.75 on job satisfaction, with Singapore being most severe scoring a low of 5.09 to 4.93 (current & outlook in the next six months). Having low job satisfaction ultimately contributes to low employee engagement and vice versa. 

What to Do When Your HR Team Feels Suffocated by Work_ APAC Job Satisfaction

While analyzing reasons for low job satisfaction ratings across different locations in Asia, we can attribute the cause to a lack of work-life balance.

Comparing the index across 71 different cities, it’s found that things are especially dire for developed areas like Hong Kong, which has the longest average working hours of 50.1 hours/week – 38% above the world average. While working hours are not directly correlated to the level of job satisfaction, it poses as a threat to both mental and emotional health, negatively impacting one’s job satisfaction and work motivation in the long-run.

What to Do When Your HR Team Feels Suffocated by Work_ good time to quit

With so many employees disengaged and dissatisfied with their jobs, the result is a highly mobile working market. Not only are employees more likely to leave, with 70% looking to quit their jobs within two years, but employers’ attitudes also changed, with as many as 32% expecting their staff to jump-jobs. All this is not without a cost to the business, as the Bureau of National Affairs estimates U.S. businesses lose $11 billion annually due to employee turnover.


An Experiment on Pay & Work Motivation

Common belief is that people are motivated by pay, but studies on behaviour show that the opposite may be true. It is found that when employees feel less appreciated in work, the more money employees would want in order to stay in work.


In a socioeconomics experiment, groups of students were asked to find pairs of identical letters in a piece of paper filled with random letters for multiple rounds. For each round, participants were offered less money than the previous round to complete the task.

In group one, students will write their names on the piece of paper after completing the task and handed them over to the experimenter who would acknowledge the participant with a verbal cue. In group two, participants didn’t write their names down, and the experimenter would just put their completed assignment into the pile of papers without looking or giving any additional reinforcement. Group three students, immediately upon completion, would have their sheets of paper shredded.


Participants in the third group where their work was being shredded needed twice as much money as those in the first, whose work was being acknowledged, to complete the entire experiment.

Interestingly, students in the second group, whose work was saved but ignored, needed almost as much money as students in Group three whose work was being shredded upon completing the task.

The experiment reached a conclusion that ignoring one’s performance is almost as bad as shredding their efforts right before their eyes, while a little encouragement can go a long way. The more appreciated an employee feels in their job, the less factor of pay (money) would have in affecting job motivation and engagement.

What to Do When Your HR Team Feels Suffocated by Work_ motivation job

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation Drives Employee Engagement

Intrinsic motivation is more internal and intangible, linking to how an individual feel, one is moved to act for the fun, positive feeling or challenge entailed in a task rather than external factors such as tangible rewards like money. 

In a work setting, intrinsically motivated employees who feel capable and find meaning and growth in the work that they do are usually more self-driven. Management will find these employees great assets as they often require less supervision according to a study on Work Engagement, Intrinsic Motivation and Job Satisfaction among Employees of A Coal Mining Company in South Borneo in 2015.

On the other hand, some employees are motivated better with tangible rewards. This kind of motivation can pretty much equate with the effort from the management level to inspire and reward the employees – paychecks, praises, awards, fame, discounts etc.

HR and managers should identify how to bring out the best in their employees by balancing both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations in the workplace to encourage employee engagement.

How much time to spend on Employee Engagement Strategy?

With employee engagement being so important to the success and performance of a business, how much priority is given from the business on making sure that there are the right employee engagement strategies in place?

In a survey that looks at how an HR Elite would divide time on activities that would actually drive impact to businesses performance in terms of ROI and improving employee’s productivity, it is revealed that the top 3 most time-consuming activities were all related to some form of employee engagement activities.

What to Do When Your HR Team Feels Suffocated by Work_ HR job responsibilities infographic

An HR Elite would spend an average of 21.8% of the time is spent on Meeting with Senior Staff and Business Partners, followed by 15.3% of the time on Employee Relations & Engagement and 13.6% of the time on Meeting with Employees.

That is equivalent to 50.7%, over 0.5 FTE of time/cost spent on some sort of employee relations and engagement work. It is also notable that only 8.1% of the time is spent on administrative work which aligns to the belief that high performing HR team focuses a lot more on value-added strategic activities as illustrated in the chart above.

HR outsourcing has always been seen as a way to elevate the role of HR teams. With professionally managed services like payroll outsourcing, HR teams can better focus on value-adding propositions. The impact of outsourcing your administrative HR functions like payroll processing and other administratively heavy tasks like visa processing and management will make a lot of sense for organisations looking to improve business performances.

The importance of sculpting a work environment that has a combination of positive employee relations and engagement strategies would create an impact on improving employee productivity, work motivation, job satisfaction, retention rates and eventually business performance.

Business stakeholders and HR leaders must find the right balance in the type of activities to invest their time in. If businesses and HR teams find themselves having a different time-spent matrix compared to the chart illustrated and business performances are not up-to-par with expectations, it might be ideal to look at reviewing the business strategy again.


Links International is an industry leader in innovative HR outsourcing with services such as payroll outsourcingvisa applicationEmployer of Record (EOR)/ PEO Secondmentrecruitment and more! Contact us for more information on how we can help leverage your HR function.

HRO Banner