The Employee Engagement Network

Got an interesting question through my mailbox - how would you define the difference between "engagement" and "motivation"? I have some ideas and thought I'd throw it out to this community to see what others thought and felt. Thanks!

Lisa Sansom

Tags: motivation

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Lisa - It is a great question.  I'm not sure there is a huge difference.  Really if employees are engaged they are likely motivated.  The concepts really go hand in hand.  Motivation, passion, desire, all those things that are about unlocking the "hearts and minds" of employees are intricate to engagement.  

It may be about the source of the motivation - you can be motivated by negative things such as fear (of failure, dismissal, disappointing someone etc). Engagement I see as a positive, self-directed intention. Is that too simplistic?

Here's what I ended up writing:

My first instinct was "of course they're different" but now that I think about it, motivation might just be a way to increase engagement.

So, if we consider intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, then there are different ways to increase involvement with work (engagement).
We could increase someone's engagement with work via extrinisic motivators (e.g. salary. bonuses, titles, corner office, etc) or they might wish to increase their own engagement via intrinsic motivators (e.g. I want to have more fun at work, seeking meaning, etc).
So my initial take would be that engagement is the outcome, motivation is the process by which you get there.
I like your other ideas too Anil and Lydia...

When I think of motivation, I think of words and phrases like speed, drive, throughput, want, results. Motivated employees will generally work harder, put in more effort, and deliver results. It's like oiling your machine. However, the reason behind motivation can be the fear of failure and rebuke, it can be the bonus at the end of the year, it can be intrinsic or extrinsic rewards including points, badges, leaderboards, or maybe even a dinner with the CEO. It can be also better engagement.

I see engagement as a process by which you can not only motivate your employee, but also get him intimately involved with the company. Motivated employees may be like well oiled engines, but engaged employees go beyond being machines.

Engagement will also help companies in handling low performing, disgruntled, sad employees, making them feel part of the company, the family of employees.

While motivation leads to results, engagement treats employees as humans with feelings, and in the process, motivates them.

Though motivation and engagement are intertwined they are different.


Engagement reflects the level a person feels connected to something. It is the "what".

Motivation is what drives a person to be connected to something. It is the "why".



Clean, simple, straightforward...well done Heather.

Lisa its a good question.  I see it this way:

--engagement is a behavior which happens when someone finds the work environment to their liking and chooses to act on that (greater commitment, "going the extra mile", etc.)

--motivation is the inner state which determines whether one will choose to engage

Here is the flow I see:  work environment>>triggers inner emotional state of worker, including their motivation>>which triggers their choice to engage

The interesting thing here is that this is all about probabilities:  the great work environment significantly increases the probability that people will have the heightened positive emotional state, and then engage, but this is not 100%.  Some will never engage no matter the environment (we have all met them at work!)  Sadly (for them, and the rest of us) they probably never experience that inner state.  There could be many reasons for this:  depression, personality etc.

I would conclude that these two things then are quite different, while being connected, and one (motivation) precedes the other (engagement).

best to you

David, co-author, The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing ME and WE (Macmillan, 2012)

Thanks so much all - I appreciate the responses! Much food for thought, to be sure! 


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