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Motivation comes from the inside out. For centuries, from sports to battles to business, management styles have been waged and lost trying to spur on this driving force that makes a winning team. Even in the brave new world of business in the mobile and computer age, this human resources question still hangs in the air: How to motivate employees?
The answer is more straightforward, and more complicated, than you’d think. It’s not necessarily money, though incentives and benefits often work. It’s not even security, though that’s basic ground to cover. Furthermore, it’s not the same for every employee. We’re all different from one another, so what might motivate one of your employees to work will not motivate another.
Therefore, it’s important to evaluate a broad range of strategies to see which ones are most effective in motivating your employees. One important thing to keep in mind is that most employees are already motivated—it’s your job as a business owner and manager to tap into that motivation to accomplish work goals.
Our strategies will show you how.
As we said before, no two employees are the same. Therefore, your first step in figuring out how to motivate employees is to do your research.
“The biggest thing with motivation is figuring out what people want from their jobs and realizing people aren’t always willing to share what it is they want,” says Alisa Krasner, Fundera’s VP of People. “Because of this, we use several different approaches that help us gain insight into what our people want.”
Here are ways to do your research into employee motivation:
Surveys are a great way to get an idea of how your employees are feeling. While the feedback provided in surveys won’t always be highly specific, it is a good way to get a baseline read on how motivated your employees may or may not be feeling. You can also use surveys to test the effectiveness of motivational strategies, or solicit feedback on new methods or procedures that may increase motivation.
A more specific way to gauge the motivation of your employees and determine methods to increase motivation is to speak directly with them at a regular cadence. Typically, it’s a good practice for managers to meet with their employees at least once every week or so to discuss their performance and how they are feeling. Having open, honest, and respectful communication with your manager can itself be motivational. It can also help a manager gain more insight into other ways they can motivate their employee to produce his or her best work.
What really makes up an employee’s day? How can you give them tools to be more flexible and effective at everything they do? To find out, ask your employees if you can shadow them as they do their jobs. Explain you’re not trying to micromanage them (which can kill motivation), but rather come up with more effective strategies to help them do their work. Learn how your employees use their abilities to complete tasks. Then, consider how they do their jobs when creating motivational strategies.
Surveying employees, talking with them directly, and scheduling shadowing sessions should give you a better idea of which methods you should use to keep employees motivated. Generally, it takes a combination of several methods to keep your workforce motivated—and most of them fall under three criteria.
“According to research, career progression, learning and development, and understanding how your work ties into the larger goals of the company are the three biggest motivating factors for employees,” says Krasner.
Your motivational techniques should then encompass at least one of these factors, if not all three. Need an example? Here are our strategies:
Now that you’ve done your research, you have an idea of what motivates employees. The next question is, how do you manifest that motivation in the workplace? Here are seven ways to do so
As previously mentioned, one of the most motivating factors for an employee is having open, honest, and respectful communication with their manager. Employees want to know what is going on within the company and how that affects their jobs. By communicating regularly with your employees you are letting them know that they are valued members of the organization. Communication can happen in a variety of different ways—it can be a weekly standing meeting, a monthly company-wide get-together, or something as simple as stopping by an employee’s desk to say hello.
We already said all employees want to learn and develop—so give them that opportunity. Allow employees to mingle with other departments to learn about the work they do. Have them take on a role in a project that might be a little outside their specific area of expertise. Let them sit in on meetings. Perhaps you may even provide them with a stipend which they can use towards outside education.
If the employee is learning and succeeding in their role, reward them by expanding their responsibilities. Allow them to attend higher-level meetings and assign them projects with more complexity. You could also give them a voice in decision-making situations.
Remember that most employees seek creative responsibility. Allow them to use their imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems. This will help the employee feel like they are learning and developing, which is sure to keep them engaged, and motivated, at work.
Nothing zaps employee motivation quite like the feeling that managers are unwilling or incapable of fixing issues. To make sure this doesn’t happen in your workplace, solicit feedback from employees (via surveys and 1:1 meetings) and listen to their complaints. Even if an issue can’t be resolved in a way that will satisfy the employee, the fact that you addressed the issue will be appreciated by your staff. Generally, you want to foster an environment in which employees feel empowered to come to you with their concerns because they know you will take them seriously.
This one is almost painfully obvious, but it bears repeating. Most employees are rewarded for good performance in the form of a raise in salary or some other kind of monetary gift. While money is a good motivating factor, there are also other forms of reward you can use, such as verbal or written praise, an award, or the opportunity to work on a unique project or assignment.
Instead of a heavy-handed management style, utilize the flexible technology of the 21st century to keep everyone on track in a transparent and self-motivated way. For example, allow employees the flexibility to work from home when needed while holding them accountable via project management software like Trello or Monday.com. You can also be flexible about the hours employees need to work, how they need to dress, and when they can or cannot take time off. Offering this kind of flexibility makes employees feel empowered, which in turn will help motivate them.
If you have a pleasant office, employees will be more motivated to come in everyday to work. Therefore, aim to make your workplace not only functional, but also aesthetically pleasing. This means having a well-lit office that is tidy and organized. It also doesn’t hurt to throw in a few plants or maybe a picture here and there. Adding communal workspaces like lounge areas can also improve motivation by fostering collaboration between colleagues.
Another aspect of the workplace that you shouldn’t overlook is having a well-stocked kitchen. According to a survey by Seamless, 57% of employees say having food-based perks make them feel more valued. If you pay attention to your workforce’s physical needs, they will in turn be more motivated to deliver for you.
Gamification is the application of game elements in the workplace. A common example is offering employees incentives for reaching certain goals. Gamification motivates employees to compete and improve while offering them real-time feedback on their performance. Be aware though that gamification is most effective when the goals you set for your employees are meaningful and factor in to the larger goals of the organization.
Ultimately, the best way to motivate employees is to understand what makes each of them tick and cater your approach accordingly. Some employees might value open communication and verbal praise, while others appreciate work flexibility and a comfortable workspace. It’s your job as the manager to do your research and find out how to motivate each of your workers to do their best job.
We feel the strategies we have provided are some of the best techniques to implement when determining how to motivate employees. And remember: Motivated employees work harder and smarter, helping you accomplish your business goals.
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