Most modern leaders are well aware of the impact of employee motivation on a variety of important workplace outcomes. From increased employee productivity, to higher levels of innovation, to lowered employee turnover, motivation affects the big picture and the bottom line.
But motivation is a somewhat tricky concept. Different things drive each individual. Some workers gravitate toward extrinsic recognition. They put forth extra effort in order to obtain money, a prize, public prestige, or other types of external incentives. Other employees thrive on intrinsic motivation. They go the extra mile because they like the challenge, are invested in the result, or find personal fulfillment.
As might be expected, workers often like when work environments employ a mixture of motivation techniques. Here, we look at a range of employee motivation strategies that encourage employee engagement, hard work, and job satisfaction.
Provide a connection to a vision
People want what they do to matter. A job takes on much greater significance and spurs increased effort when an employee understands his individual contribution to company goals. Make the organization’s mission clear. Then, help workers internalize their unique role in turning dreams into reality. Include many outlets in which they can express thoughts and offer suggestions. A heard voice is an engaged voice.
“In my opinion, one of the most important factors in motivating employees is clear and open communication,” says Azzam Sheikh, digital strategist at Money Advisor. “It is important to make sure that employees are aware of the company’s goals, objectives, and expectations. Regular updates must be provided regarding the success, changes, and milestones of the company. In addition, make sure you solicit feedback from workers and respond quickly to any concerns they may have. Transparency is promoted, trust is built, and employees are made to feel appreciated and informed thanks to this communication that goes in both directions.”
Adds Troy Portillo, director of operations at Studypool, “Transparency is an underrated employee motivation strategy. When you’re honest with your employees and fill them in on the details of where the company is headed, and why, they’re going to feel like they’re a part of the company. When your employees are invested in your company because they feel like they’re a part of it, they’re going to be motivated to see the success of the company, which will mean higher productivity and innovation – all things that are necessary for the ultimate success of the company.”
When you provide workers with more control over what they do, they gain motivation to rise to the occasion. They want to reward your trust. Plus, they take a vested interest in the project. After all, it is their problem-solving abilities and good work that makes or breaks the outcome.
“Giving employees a sense of independence and empowerment can be a powerful motivator,” says Sara Sharp, mergers and acquisition attorney and founder of SK&S Law Group. “Giving employees control over their work processes, taking ownership of projects, and making decisions increases intrinsic motivation and promotes a sense of responsibility. At our company, we reward initiative among employees and provide them chances to lead and innovate within their positions.”
Play to interests and abilities
All workers have elements of their job that they like more than others or do particularly well. Increasing the time spent on those things can boost the desire to come to work and to perform with greater verve.
“Giving employees the freedom to select and work on projects that are in line with their interests can considerably increase motivation,” Sharp says. “At SK&S, we engage their intrinsic motivation and pursuit of excellence by letting them work on projects that excite their passion or capitalize on their knowledge. Additionally, this strategy fosters a sense of purpose and professional satisfaction.”
Offer more challenges
We learn from an early age that achieving feels good. Earning an “A” on a report card or mastering how to tie one’s shoes builds pride and self-confidence. Providing adults opportunities to expand their horizons spurs these same feelings. Teach new skills. Support professional development classes and training. Assign a “stretch” project.
When employees at Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises crave the motivational boost of expanding their horizons, they turn to Cox Gigs. This cross-divisional program matches employees with short-term projects outside of their department. It provides workers with a unique opportunity to diversify their experiences and expand their skill set. Employees share knowledge, build relationships, and collaborate with colleagues they might not otherwise get to work with.
Keep workloads manageable
Create SMART goals
Similarly, people gain motivation to accomplish something when a reasonable plan exists. Without one, they may doubt that there’s a way to reach the desired result. They feel hesitant and lost rather than inspired.
Together, develop SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The parameters not only lay out how to get to the end goal, they offer encouragement along the way through accomplishing the various steps.
“The participation of workers in the process of goal setting is, in my opinion, an essential component of an effective motivational strategy that utilizes goal setting,” says Leo Ye, CEO and co-founder of Cubo. “When employees are allowed to participate in the process of goal-setting, they develop a sense of ownership over those goals, which increases the likelihood that they will be driven to attain those goals. Maintaining motivation requires providing feedback regularly on their progress and celebrating key milestones and accomplishments.”
How did the client like the presentation? How were last month’s sales figures following the unveiling of a new advertising campaign? Who in the department had the best customer feedback scores this quarter? Inform team members of results. People like to know what they did had an impact. Sharing also can stir competitive juices as individuals see a bar reached by peers and strive to obtain the top spot themselves next time.
Speaking of competition, a little friendly head-to-head can be an effective way to motivate employees. Vying to win adds an element of excitement. Measure productivity figures or fewest mistakes. Break into groups and encourage teamwork to come up with the best solution to a problem. Give winners perks such as gift cards, choice parking places for a month, or “get out of work an hour early” vouchers.
Provide a positive environment
Altering some workday responsibilities to help employees stay motivated is a good thing. Dumping more work on someone is not. Few things deflate workers as much as a never-ending to-do list that they know has no realistic chance of accomplishment. Be conscious of time and abilities rather than frustrate employees and kill motivation.
Even highly motivated employees may experience difficulty gearing up for work if they face a toxic company culture. Deal with problems such as negativity, gossipping, bullying, lack of communication, and other energy-zappers before they take a toll.
Likewise, physically look around the workplace. Does it appear welcoming and upbeat or downright discouraging? Perhaps the time has come for some invigorating renovations or even simply a thorough cleaning. Create a comfortable, inviting environment that motivates people to come to work!
Think of team-building as motivation-building, too. Connection to others promotes working harder. One doesn’t want to be seen as the “weak link” or let teammates down. Helping the group achieve creates a powerful sense of belonging. You’re not just doing things for your own benefit but putting forth more for the good of all.
Prioritize employee recognition
People like to be noticed and appreciated. Employees receive an immediate motivational boost when a manager or fellow team member offers positive feedback, a compliment, or words of thanks. Build a company culture where both leaders and staff members alike recognize the talents and efforts of others frequently and genuinely.
Among the multitude of ways to sing someone’s praises:
Write a note.
Say “thank you” directly.
Acknowledge someone at a staff meeting.
Publish accomplishments in a company newsletter.
Brag about a person in front of clients.
Give a physical token of appreciation, such as money, a trophy, or even a surprise muffin left on his desk.
Create a Slack channel dedicated to positive shout-outs.
Celebrating milestones such as work anniversaries.
“Our most successful motivation technique is consistent recognition and reward,” says Lauren Mendoza, co-founder of Bank Standard. “Public acknowledgments during team meetings, personalized messages of appreciation, and incentives linked to key performance indicators have all proven effective. This approach not only motivates the recognized individuals but also encourages a culture of peer recognition and team effort.”
Adds Sharp, “While official recognition initiatives are important, promoting a peer-to-peer recognition culture can be just as effective. Encouragement of teammates to recognize and value one another’s contributions improves motivation while also strengthening teamwork. We’ve put in place a system where workers can publicly acknowledge and thank their co-workers for their contributions, fostering a positive and encouraging work atmosphere.”
Promote self-care and work-life balance
A person experiencing burnout has a hard time mustering motivation. Physical and mental exhaustion leave little energy for pushing to greater heights. Consider offering flexible scheduling and remote work options. Tout mental health initiatives. Respect unplugging outside of workday hours. Encourage taking advantage of employee benefits such as vacation days and wellness programs. Once healthy in body and mind, workers can find the strength to give more to their employee performance.
“To maintain the motivation and well-being of one’s workforce, I believe it is critical to encourage a healthy work-life balance,” says Alice Hall, co-founder and creative director at Rowen Homes. “When at all possible, try to work out flexible work arrangements for your employees, such as allowing them to work from home, adjusting their hours, or working fewer days per week. Encourage workers to take breaks, make use of their vacation time, and put self-care at the top of their priority list. Introduce preventative health measures such as regular exercise, time spent practicing mindfulness, and access to professional therapy. This will lead to increased motivation and loyalty on their part.”
Adds Nate Russo, director of operations at FloridaPanhandle.com, “I’ve found that some of the best ways to motivate my employees are by encouraging them to take more breaks and have more fun with what they are doing. If your employees are constantly working themselves to the bone and aren’t getting a good balance between work and life, that’s going to put them on a direct path to burnout. It’s also going to make them feel like management doesn’t care about them beyond the results they put out. So, when as an employer you encourage taking breaks and having fun while working, that will go a long way toward preventing burnout, boosting morale, and in turn improving motivation.”
Take an interest in each person
Want to know what motivates an individual worker? Ask! What gets the person up in the morning? What are his career ambitions? What aspects of the job does she find most rewarding? Regular check-ins provide valuable information. Use what you discover to customize motivation techniques to personal preferences.
“I think it’s important to understand that motivation is a spectrum, and there are many different ways to motivate people,” says Noel Griffith, chief marketing officer at SupplyGem. “At one end of the spectrum, you have rewards: cash bonuses, promotions, and gifts. At the other end you have intrinsic motivation: working on something because you love it or because you’re passionate about it. In the middle, you have things like recognition and feedback. What I’ve found is that if you don’t know what motivates your employees, then they’ll likely be motivated by whatever they’re offered—which means that if you give them cash bonuses or promotions, they’ll be happy . . . until those things run out. Then they’ll start feeling unmotivated again. But if you know your employees’ intrinsic motivations—what drives them personally—you can use those as tools for motivation instead of relying on external rewards. You might give someone a raise because their work is excellent—but then also tell them what makes their work so good so that they can do more of the same kind of thing in the future!”