5 Biggest Motivators for Knowledge Workers: New Workfront Survey

July 25, 2017 Marcus Varner

“What motivates knowledge workers?”

It’s a common question asked by office workers and their managers around the world today. Since motivation at work is essential in being able to consistently produce one’s best work, business leaders are desperate to know how they can harness that motivation.


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To get to the bottom of this question, Workfront recently conducted a survey of 1,000 office workers in the United Kingdom. Their responses illustrate the way different elements in the workplace influence their personal desire to do their best.

The results of the survey were eye-opening, even surprising. For example, would you believe that listening to R&B could help boost your productivity? Or that natural light has one of the highest influences on productivity to those UK knowledge workers surveyed? Here’s what we learned.

1. “Sure, I’m Motivated”

For starters, 50 percent of the participants said that on a daily basis, they were very motivated at work, with another 44 percent saying they were only somewhat motivated. That 50 percent is a great place to start!  

Along with that, 58 percent of the participants stated they were almost always self-motivated. But what else motivates these workers?

2. The Power of Praise

When asked what influences them to excel at work, the number-one answer—above salary, self-satisfaction, and praise from either clients or coworkers—was praise from a boss or manager. Yes, praise is the most powerful tool a manager can use to motivate his or her workers.

In contrast, criticism from a manager was the most demotivating thing these workers experienced—even more so than being overworked.

3. Rhythm and Blues … and Productivity

Participants were also asked about music in the workplace. While the wrong kind of music can be a productivity killer, the right kind of music can be just what the productivity doctor ordered, say knowledge workers.

A combined 83 percent of these workers said music either sometimes or always helps them to be more productive.

And what was the top productivity-inducing music genre? R&B was reported as being the most motivating genre of music to listen to, with rock and alternative tying for a close second.

4. Flex is Best

Then they were asked about perks—the little joys that make work great. What work perks are the most motivating for our knowledge workers? At 52 percent, beating out bonuses and other financial rewards, was having flexible hours.

This correlated nicely with the results of our next question: “When are you most productive during the day?” Morning (7 a.m. - 10 a.m.) and late morning (10 a.m. - 12 p.m.) came in first.

The clear conclusion here is that flexible hours and working conditions enable workers to make sure they’re working when they’re going to be most productive. It’s also an ideal way to help knowledge workers balance work and life.

5. The Best Space

When asked what types of office features bring out the most productivity, it was a pretty even tie between individual offices and an open floor office.

And as far as factors in an office setting, having natural light came back as the most important for nearly all of the UK workers surveyed.

Outside of the office, home was reported as the best place to work, again highlighting the benefits employers can find in giving their knowledge workers the ability to get work done remotely.

Praise, Flexibility, and R&B

Clearly, knowledge workers want to drive themselves to do their best work.

So turn up that R&B. Managers, make a greater point of praising employees for their work and withholding criticism. And if you aren’t already, think about giving your team members the ability to work when and where they work best.

If this survey is any indication, employers that heed these insights will find themselves with happier workers that get more done.


See our SlideShare "81 Tips from PM Experts: How to be a Smarter, More Effective Project Manager" for more advice on how to be a better manager.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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