Learning how to motivate employees is easier in theory than in reality, mainly because knowledge is useless without application. The pressures of remote work, hiring freezes, and uncertainty around a job only add to the chaos that is managing people in the workplace, and the pandemic has taken its toll on much more than company bank accounts, as team morale and employee motivation has come to a crux in the road.
HR managers are seeing a significant increase in workplace-related issues being reported since the pandemic started, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. This trend will most likely hold as companies begin to place restrictions on workplace options by demanding employees return to the office to resume standard pre-pandemic workflow.
A notable 48% of employees have reported issues to their HR departments since the pandemic started. And these statistics appear to be getting worse with new developments in COVID-19 variants, civil unrest in cities across the country, and people deciding to change careers amid turmoil within businesses.
Yet, while this may sound like we are on the brink of an economic collapse, the glass is still half full.
Turning Crisis Into Employee Motivation
Because of the pandemic, the environment has seen significant advances in decreasing water and air pollution due to less travel. The US economy is still barreling through a bull market, and most of us have had greater opportunities to spend time with family due to lockdowns and social distancing measures.
As Winston Churchill said,
“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Companies that choose to change the way they treat their employees during these dire times will see their efforts pay dividends down the road for many years to come, and motivating employees is one small piece of the puzzle towards making the workplace a place of productivity, engagement, and continuous improvement.
Profits are usually preceded by people taking action, which is why investing in your employees is one of the most vital factors in maximizing company growth.
Table of Contents
- Turning Crisis Into Employee Motivation
- Understand the Types of Employee Motivation
- How to Motivate Employees
- 1. Ask Them for Their Feedback
- 2. Give Them the Freedom of Choice
- 3. Minimize Meetings for Greater Productivity
- 4. Provide Resources for Continued Professional Growth and Learning
- 5. Engage Employees in Setting Individual and Company Goals
- 6. Let Them Know You Care
- 7. Give Praise In Public, Critique in Private
- 8. Set Smaller Goals
- 9. Be Transparent
- 10. Motivate Individuals Rather Than Just the Team
- 11. Learn What Makes Each Employee Operate
- 12. Be Inclusive
- Motivation Is Just the Start
Understand the Types of Employee Motivation
Employee motivation is the intrinsic and internal drive to put forth the necessary effort and action toward all work-related activities and tasks. Employee motivation encompasses the enthusiasm, energy, commitment, and creativity level that an employee brings to the table each day at work.
When you understand this motivation theory, you can focus on intrinsic rewards that motivate employees from within and create a good atmosphere and work environment for everyone. Extrinsic rewards fade fast, while intrinsic rewards focus on motivation.
Achievement motivation is a term used in social psychology to describe a time when people are driven, inspired, or stimulated by their successes and accomplishments.
Achievement motivation in a work environment can drive people to become high performers. When one is oriented toward this kind of achievement and workplace motivation, they feel more in control and are happier in life. Staying motivated is great for self-respect.
Theory X and Theory Y
Theory X and Theory Y are two theories of motivation supplied by Douglas McGregor in the 60s based on the idea that management in the workplace is responsible for all factors of production, including the employees. This is important to know when trying to understand how to find motivation in the workplace.
- Theory X: This theory of motivation in the workplace takes on more of an authoritarian style. A manager provides instructions and closely monitors each employee. This typically happens when the employees lack motivation and do not want to work. This could be due to laziness, a dislike of the work, or a lack of ambition.
- Theory Y: This motivation theory takes on a participative management style. The employees self-direct and are self-motivated to accomplish their specific goals and objectives. Employees also have a sense of creative motivation, internal motivation and receive rewards associated with their achievements.
Motivating Factors for Employees
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but I wanted to highlight some of the top factors that increase employee motivation.
1. Job Security
In the current cultural climate, job security ranks high. In 2020, a high percentage of businesses shut their doors, laid-off employees, and downsized general operations. The few employees who were able to go virtual were blessed. However, a large number of people moved from a job they loved to being gainfully unemployed. With that in mind, when an employee finds an excellent place to work that promotes job security, they are motivated to do what they can to keep their job.
2. Being Recognized for Their Work
Being recognized at work is a critical factor that will increase employee motivation. Deep inside every employee is the desire to be seen as someone who does an excellent job. When they are privately and publicly recognized for their work, it keeps them showing and motivates them to go to the next level.
3. A Healthy Work Environment
Toxic work environments demotivate employees. On the flip side, a healthy environment boosts morale and keeps people showing up. Take a look at google. They have an environment that promotes enthusiasm, community, and fun. Google’s environments promote high performance by focusing on removing stress. In return, the employee shows up refreshed, highly motivated, and ready to work. There is a lot of power in an environment that promotes health.
4. Career Advancement
Employees want to know that there are options for them to advance. Working a “dead-end” job demotivates employees because it tells them that there is no chance for them to be more than they are at that moment. Want to motivate people? Invite them to express their purpose, give them a clear path of growth, and you will have one highly motivated employee.
5 . Good Wages
Employees want to take care of their self-interests. Whether they are single or support a family, the employee will be highly motivated when they know that they are earning enough to live a comfortable life. The greater the pay level they can achieve, the more they will be motivated, and the harder they will work.
Things That Kill Employees’ Motivation
Before we jump into discussing ways of motivating your employees, let’s take a moment and discuss what kills motivation. I find that understanding the roadblocks helps us become aware of them so that we might remove them.
Micromanagement is a form of mistrust. For the micromanager, the process of micromanaging others is all about control. The more you control, the safer you feel. However, the greater control you exert the more your employees feels mistrusted, mistreated, and undervalued. When your employees feel like this, their motivation drops and the business suffers.
How would you feel if someone was watching your every move? What would you think if the leader didn’t delegate work, became overly involved with your work, and discouraged you from making decisions? Would you feel motivated if the leader decided to look at every detail, demanded regular updates, and wanted to be cc’d on every email? If that doesn’t motivate you, then realize it will kill all employee motivation within your organization.
2. Lack of Systems and Structure
Lamar University defines structure as:
“the formal system of task and reporting relationships that controls, coordinates, and motivates employees so that they cooperate to achieve an organization’s goals.”
Structure and systems tells employees who does what, who answers to who, and how things are meant to be accomplished. These are super important to building motivation.
Effective, efficient, and motivated employees are birthed from solid structures and systems. The purpose of such systems is to create a work environment that builds motivation and promotes productivity. The lack of systems and structure is one of the fastest ways to demotivate employees. When the employee lives in multiple levels of complexity because there isn’t a straightforward system, it will increase the stress level. As the stress level rises, the employee’s motivation falls.
3. Unclear Expectations
It is important to note that we all carry expectations on how things should work. Where we struggle is in how effectively we communicate those expectations to those we interact with. In truth, there is a high percentage of leaders who call people to a high level of expectation without ever sharing what that level is.
Millions of employees have to live to a standard that they are unclear how to achieve. You cannot achieve what you do not know. If the expectations are not clearly defined and communicated, the employee will never meet those expectations.
The most motivated employees are those who know where the target is. When an organization carries high expectations that are never communicated, the employee is positioned for failure. If I were an employee who knew that there was no way to win, I would be demotivated entirely and ultimately look for a new position elsewhere.
How to Motivate Employees
Curious as to how to motivate your employees to succeed? Here are 12 effective ways.
1. Ask Them for Their Feedback
Something magical happens when you ask someone their opinion about a topic—they immediately feel better about themselves and you!
When people provide their perspective, it feeds their ego and changes their view of the conversation, creating a greater likability for you or the individual who asked the question. This simple strategy can leave a long-lasting positive impression, which in turn will facilitate greater trust and higher employee satisfaction over time.
Employees who feel heard have a higher probability of coming to work early or staying late to finish a project because they feel they are genuinely part of the team. Their work is no longer seen as just being a part of the job because they are now emotionally invested in individual and company-wide initiatives.
Asking questions will also facilitate higher-level cognitive processing, promote new ideas, challenge company norms, and provide a greater sense of confidence in creating solutions to problems.
2. Give Them the Freedom of Choice
Do you remember what it felt like to drive a car on your own for the first time? It felt like absolute freedom. Life was now different. Time appeared to slow down, and everything felt like it was there for you to explore.
What if you were able to make employees feel this same sort of fulfillment at work? Good news—you can!
When employees experience true freedom of choice, they can put more energy and effort into their work. They no longer feel anxious or worried about being watched. And from a neurological perspective, freedom can maximize brain power and mental processing.
Research has consistently shown how chronic stress and anxiety can negatively impact the brain, altering our ability to process information and impairing working memory. It also causes us to be more error-prone, creating more work on the back end as we try to go back and fix errors.
When employees feel like they have a choice in the matter, their motivation and willingness to get work done will inherently increase.
3. Minimize Meetings for Greater Productivity
There’s a reason Jeff Bezos uses the two-pizza rule for his meetings—too many cooks in the kitchen can create unnecessary tension and slow down progress.
Even more importantly, excessive meetings can also delay the growth and creativity of problem-solving—and this isn’t just popular opinion. A study conducted by Igloo Software found out that 47% of employees think meetings are unproductive.
A Harvard Business Review survey also found that 65% of senior managers felt meetings take away from their ability to complete their work, with 71% of them feeling like meetings were an unproductive and inefficient use of time.
This time spent meeting could easily be spent working on projects or investing in building relationships between colleagues, yielding a significantly greater return on investment through team building and effective communication strategies.
Meetings sound great in theory but rarely yield the dividends needed to justify their use. And for the most part, excessive meetings can be demoralizing, especially if they’re unnecessary and wasting time. More work from meetings usually equates to less motivation to work as it piles up, regardless of an individual’s efforts.
4. Provide Resources for Continued Professional Growth and Learning
Investing in your employees is one of the best investments a company could make—especially during dire times—because it shows that you have employees’ best interests in mind. Yet, many companies worry that the time, energy, and money they invest in their employees will turn on them if they leave.
Regardless of the investment, some employees will choose to leave at some point in time. But when employees leave on good terms and feel like they could grow with a company, they instantly become walking billboards for the company they left, which can create future job referrals and opportunities for expansion.
When employees feel like the company they work for is willing to invest in them for their personal growth, those employees will be more inclined to invest their time, energy, and resources to work even harder for the company. This process creates a positive feedback cycle of productivity that can carry any company through the inevitable ups and downs.
We’ve got news for you for those who are still skeptical about making investments in employee development. Investing in employee training and development can reduce employee turnover and absenteeism over the long run, once again saving precious time and resources.
5. Engage Employees in Setting Individual and Company Goals
Peter Drucker is famous for saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” And there’s a reason for why he said it.
Goal setting can be one of the most impactful ways to increase motivation and boost productivity, and according to Latham and Locke—two of the most prominent researchers in goal-setting theory—setting goals can boost productivity by 11 to 25% when done correctly.
Once again, when employees feel as though they are a part of the conversation, they are willing to put in the extra effort when needed to complete a task, finish a job, or go above and beyond their regular line of responsibilities to be a team player.
This concept also combines individual initiatives and turns them into company-wide goals, providing a fully encompassing and heavily integrative approach to team building. When the employee and the company reach their individual goals, a sense of personal and professional fulfillment occurs, creating a shift in momentum that the business can use to propel the company into even more growth and development.
Goalsetting is no longer something you should do behind closed doors. It’s an essential part of your business plan and can help you retain top talent while creating an optimal workplace environment.
6. Let Them Know You Care
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And if they know you care, they will have no reason to look elsewhere for another job opportunity.
Caring is so much more than saying “thank you,” although this is always a great place to start. Caring about employees means genuinely listening to their feedback, providing them options and alternatives with choosing how they want to work, and allowing them to make decisions on their behalf freely.
When companies care about their employees, they don’t question why an employee needs to take time off or whether a project will get done because they trust their people. They let their employee’s outcomes and actions speak for themselves.
When companies genuinely care about their employees, employee engagement skyrockets, and employee retention is kept at bay. These factors are significant because maintaining high employee retention is a bigger problem than hiring new employees, especially with small businesses. 99.7% of the employers in the US are small businesses, so when they struggle with keeping employees happy, everyone suffers as a result of it.
Caring may not directly show up on the monthly budget or quarterly earnings reports, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have significant payoffs over the long run.
7. Give Praise In Public, Critique in Private
Have you ever felt the spine-tingling second-hand embarrassment of being in the same room as someone who was being scolded by a superior? It’s horrific and entirely preventable.
What do you think this does to individual morale? What about team morale? Do these sorts of antics facilitate taking calculated risks, challenging the status quo, or provide motivation for progress? Think again.
Influential leaders must give feedback, but the way they choose to provide input can have a ripple effect throughout the company, even if it doesn’t directly affect everyone.
One bad incident can yield significant negative consequences throughout an organization and have detrimental effects for years to come. As Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Praising employees in public provides a collective boost in team morale by creating an overall sense of security that appeals to our foundational needs. This factor is even more impactful when negative feedback and difficult conversations need to occur.
By providing an intimate setting without external or outside judgment, difficult conversations can take on a life of their own that can create growth, learning, and development. And this is the time to give feedback about performance, metrics, and must-needed changes. Not only does this facilitate trust and relationship building, but it also promotes safety and time to discuss personal and professional factors that may also be weighing in on an employee’s performance.
Trust can take years to create and minutes to shatter.
8. Set Smaller Goals
Your organization should have a 5 or 10-year business plan that depicts trends, goals, and markers for success. The most outstanding leaders can take long-range goals and break them up into small achievable milestones. Each milestone is a stepping stone towards the bigger goal, but instead of pushing to the long term, we focus on the short term.
Quick wins are potent reminders of the quality of work that is accomplished. What people need to get and stay motivated is a series of quick wins. Not only does it motivate your employees, but it builds their confidence.
Now, more than ever, we must focus on short term stability instead of long term growth. It is in the short term where the organization is established. You will need quick wins that create highly motivated employees that will push the vision further along.
9. Be Transparent
Transparency produces trust. The more an employee can trust you, the greater motivation it will build. The openness at which you are sharing information is crucial for creating clarity, certainty, and trust. When employees feel out of the loop, they become uncertain. The more uncertain an employee is, the less motivated they are. It is important to note that when you lack transparency, you will loose employee motivation and trust. Ultimately, when an organization loses faith, it isn’t long before they close its doors.
The best way to be transparent is through regular communication. I do not believe that most organizations communicate well enough. If you cannot communicate well enough, you will have a platform to be transparent. Learn the science and art of communication. Invest in learning how to talk with people and not at people. Then take that knowledge and build relationships where you have the right to speak into their lives while being transparent in front of them.
10. Motivate Individuals Rather Than Just the Team
It is common to focus on “team” building and motivation. This focus can be the product of a leadership culture that focuses on “we” instead of “me.” It can also be a product of a time-sensitive leader who uses team motivation to get the job done, motivate his staff, and save time in the process. Interestingly, people love being part of a team, but they also love when they get personalized attention. There is something special when your leader takes time to build you up personally instead of a group activity.
Lean into a time where you can spend one-to-one coaching with your employee. Encourage the employee, give them pointers about growth, and acknowledge their contribution. Help them see the value they bring. When you do this, you will find that your employee will become highly motivated. A highly motivated employee will begin to inspire and motivate all the other employees within their circle.
11. Learn What Makes Each Employee Operate
To be known is a deep desire of humanity. Inside each of us that secretly wishes someone could see us for who we are and not just what we bring to the talent table. One of the best ways to dramatically increase employee motivation is through learning their personality types.
DISC, MBTI, and Enneagram all offer valuable insights that can be leveraged for growth, motivation, and alignment. Having your employee walk through an indicator then taking time to get to know the person behind the personality will instantly increase motivation.
Each personality has something they long for and specific ways they connect. Taking the time to learn and unpack each personality type is a gateway into a bond of loyalty that will drive motivation for years to come.
12. Be Inclusive
If 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything, it is that people desire to be included. Each movement was an outcry saying, “we have been forgotten.” If people are starting these movements nationally, you can bet that they are happening within your company’s ecosystem. Instead of fearing the conversation, learn to engage in it. I do not believe that people need you to agree with them. I think that people want to feel as if they have been listened to and heard.
Being included is directly linked to employee motivation. If a person does not feel heard or included, this lack of connection has serious ramifications. Not being included can lead to loneliness, depression, anger, and detachment. You and I both know that if an individual is going through the gambit of these emotions, they will lack the motivation to do their tasks and build the organization with you.
A fundamental human right and dignity is to be included. We must ensure that we include our fellow employees regardless of religion, political belief, or lifestyle choice. When we learn how to include others and help them feel like they have been heard, we will instantly have a loyal follower motivated to help us build the organization.
A connected person is a healthy person, and a healthy person is a motivated person.
Motivation Is Just the Start
To truly move a company forward, systems need to be in place to reach goals and expectations. Opportunities like this don’t happen in a vacuum, so you’ll have to learn how to motivate employees and maximize their productivity.
Motivation is merely a stepping stone to productivity and maximizing company growth, which is why leaders and employees need to communicate their intentions with clarity and by taking action consistently. Much like one cannot acquire the benefits of physical exercise by merely thinking or speaking about it, the same holds for setting goals and having genuine intentions of change.
Your actions will always speak volumes, so be sure to stay consistent as you implement these steps. Motivation is a lot like bathing—you must do it daily to uphold your standards.
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