When you're  motivated, you feel energized. You're ready to take things on, get things done, push things forward. Projects get moved along; emails get answered; you move along with pep in your step.

When you're unmotivated, it's hard to get started. You drag your feet, push things off, and slow things down. You don't really want to do the project, write the email, or go to the meeting ... so you don't. For a long time. Maybe you don't even go at all.

The fact is, knowing how to motivate your team is one of the most important parts of leadership. It's impossible to get anything done on a large scale without a cohesive and high-functioning team, and much of that is based on the motivation levels of the individual members.

Yet most people (especially in top management) consistently underestimate the real factors that motivate people, and overestimate ones that don't.

For example, a lot of high-level executives, when formulating plans to motivate employees, emphasize physical advantages or monetary compensation. They increase perks, institute bonuses, fast-track people for promotions.

Yet when employee engagement firm TINYpulse anonymously surveyed 200,000 workers to see what actually motivates people, money didn't even make the top five.

The report, called The 7 Key Trends Impacting Today's Workplace, looked at things like employee engagement, retention, and organizational culture. According to the data, these were the top 5 motivating factors for workers:

  1. Camaraderie and peer motivation (20%)

  2. Intrinsic desire to do a good job (17%)

  3. Feeling encouraged and recognized (13%)

  4. Having a real impact (10%)

  5. Growing professionally (8%)

This is both informative and eye-opening.

It means that companies that emphasize and support connection between coworkers are most likely to succeed. It turns on its head the traditional assumption that people are cutthroat and will do anything to get ahead -- and that that kind of work environment will both draw and retain top talent.

It won't. In fact, it'll drive a lot of people away and erode the company culture.

Founder of Parnassus Jerome Dodson put it this way: "[W]hen you have a contented workplace, people are willing to put out more effort to improve operations during really difficult times. While I think every organization has their ups and downs, the downs are not as pronounced because everybody pulls together to try to get through the crisis. And, of course, this consistently more engaged performance inevitably reveals itself in the firm's bottom line."

It certainly does. Researcher Alex Edmans out of Wharton has demonstrated that the firms listed in the "100 Best Companies to Work For in America" consistently outperform their peers. This has been true since 1984, to the tune of up to 3.8% or more in profit.

According to Gallup, 87 percent of the global workforce is disengaged. Almost half of people are dissatisfied with their direct supervisors. There's a lot wrong in the workplace.

Studies like this one by TINYpulse are valuable precisely because they pinpoint where to focus your attention if you do want to improve things at your company. Yes, of course you need to pay your people enough, but beyond that the research suggests focusing on things like the following:

  1. Build out ways to make it easy for employees to appreciate one another. Trader Joe's has a good way. So do a few of the companies in the case studies in the report.
  2. Put energy into determining how to employees can grow professionally. People who are learning and have a clear path forward are more engaged.
  3. Ask employees what would actually enrich their work lives and then listen. Some people would far rather have flexible time to work from home than get paid more. Be sure to listen.

Overall, remember that "camaraderie" is the top motivating factor. Even at work, it is the connections between us that give our lives meaning.

Life is all about relationships. Keep yours strong and you will thrive.