For leaders and HR professionals, understanding how to motivate employees is the key to success in many business metrics, as well as being a core component in effective leadership, retaining great people and fostering a healthy workplace culture.
Motivating employees takes work, and an understanding that everyone derives motivation from different sources and in various ways. This article takes you through some of the best tips to motivate your employees to achieve organisational success.
1. Choose the right leaders
Understanding how to motivate your employees begins with selecting the right people to motivate them. Leaders who are adept at motivating others are goal-orientated, positive, people-focused and always driven to set the right example.
Ensure that you also put in place tools, resources and training to keep these leaders motivated as well. Motivational leadership also relies on leadership living and breathing the organisational culture and values.
2. Create a good culture
A motivational culture will drive three sociological needs: the need to develop oneself, a need for affiliation and a need for positive affirmation.
In general, employees want to grow and better themselves; this is one of the best ways to retain talent. Giving them opportunities to do this — both inside and outside the organisation — is critical.
Affiliation concerns the need to belong, as well as socialisation. You must foster inclusive workspaces driven heavily by teamwork and shared goals. Finally, positive affirmation concerns your employees’ need to be recognised for the great work they’re doing.
3. Recognise a job well done
Recognising others for a great job has two main benefits.
Firstly, you’re going to motivate the high-performing individual, increasing their sense of self-worth, positive affirmation and being valued. This will motivate them to replicate such behaviour.
Praising people publicly will lead to a secondary benefit, which is to motivate others. If employees see that colleagues who drive for great results are being recognised accordingly, it will likely inspire them to try and achieve the same.
4. Be transparent
Leadership transparency is a powerful way to motivate employees. Rarely will work go completely according to plan, and it is scientifically proven that sharing bad news at work is better for motivation than no news at all.
Transparency has a direct correlation with trust, another powerful motivational tool. If you’re hiding bad news, being evasive or generally just being perceived as acting a little ‘shady’, distrust will spread quickly. This will demotivate teams and, over time, the whole organisation.
5. Set small, measurable goals
Cascading goals or turning them into steps makes organisational objectives much easier to achieve.
Top-level and strategic C-suite-level goals will alienate line staff, so your task as a leader is to break these up into specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely (‘SMART’) goals which are aligned to job functions and individual motivational attitudes. Doing so will motivate employees by offering goals which are, yes, maybe a little challenging, but ultimately attainable.
6. Offer fair compensation
Take time to check that the entire compensation and benefits package is designed to motivate employees as well as get results.
First and foremost, do as much as you can to align salaries. Failing to do so incubates infighting and distrust. Plan and communicate timely, regular pay reviews, sharing the rationale behind any uplifts (or the reasons why you might choose not to uplift pay at all). Consult with your employees over what benefits they wish to see.
Finally, be very aware that many sectors are operating in an age of unapparelled wage inflation. There’s a lot of scrutiny on paying people fairly, meaning that fair compensation is more critical to motivation now than ever before.
7. Have an open-door policy
Communicate to your team that you’re available for chats and that your door is always open, but better than that: walk the talk.
Make time to get out your office and walk departments and floors. Spend time with your employees over lunch. Maybe even hot desk with them, taking your laptop and working in their area for a short while (always remember to never outstay your welcome!).
Over time, employees will be motivated by the knowledge that you can be approached for any issue or question, no matter how big or small.
8. Offer flexible hours
You should offer flexible working patterns to respect the increasingly common reality that employees are busy people — both inside and outside of the workplace.
Flexible hours allow employees to balance commitments such as childcare, or a second income or ‘gig’. It might also allow employees to focus their professional energies at the times when they’re at their most productive, giving them a strong sense of balance and fulfilment.
9. Assign meaningful work
Meaningful work can be either instrumental (meaning that employees execute work because it pays bills and supports their families) or intrinsic (meaning that they like to do it, and doing so gives them a sense of pride).
Talk to your employees to understand what they’re looking for from their role. Do everything that you can to align work tasks to your employees’ sources of pride and ambition.
10. Give employees purpose
You can drive purpose at work through clear communication of long-term goals, or the ‘bigger picture’. Whereas smaller goals can motivate individuals, employees must be aware of and, more importantly, in tune with the overall mission.
Communicate this mission clearly, bringing it to life through stories and imagery. Doing so not only increases motivation at work but also significantly contributes to higher employee engagement.
11. Gamify important tasks
Gamification is designed to make work feel like a game and can include leaderboards for targets or employee-of-the-month incentives.
To gamify work, you can visually track goal progress, keep track of ‘high scores’ or create ‘badges’ when employees complete certain accomplishments. The key to gamifying work is to discuss with your team what they want to see. This way, they’ll be especially motivated when you bring these programmes to life.
12. Encourage friendly competition
Gamification will include many elements of competition, but you should look for opportunities to foster this in any element of work.
Competition can be a great motivator, as it focuses on people, brings teams together and naturally aligns tasks to goals. Leaders must control competition to ensure that it comes secondary to team harmony and is a positive influence on organisational dynamics (and not a conflict-led demotivator).
13. Prioritise work-life balance
Employees are motivated when they feel that they have done a good job at work, yet still leave at the end of the day not feeling stressed or worried about things which have not been accomplished.
Help to manage employees’ work-life balance by communicating with employees to understand how they’re managing their workload, and if adjustments need to be made.
14. Loosen the reins
Giving employees a little more freedom can be a powerful motivator. If you’re empowering and delegating the right tasks, rather than micromanaging employees, then this responsibility links to a sense of purpose. Secondly, loosening the reins can give employees added control and freedom, fostering creativity and a little breathing space to work on tasks in a way that makes them happier and more productive.
15. Welcome all ideas
Welcoming all ideas motivates employees by giving everyone a shared sense of belonging and value. Encourage the appreciation of all suggestions by handing over the control of meetings and briefings to employees, where possible.
You can also ignite debate and discussion over every idea pitched in a meeting, leading from the front with positive, constructive thoughts. This will encourage others to do the same, contributing to a powerful culture of trust and inclusion.
16. Create bonus incentives
Bonus schemes are powerful motivational tools because they can encourage the completion of goals or targets with the promise of one of the most basic human needs: additional financial security.
Always ensure the terms of a bonus scheme are communicated before it is implemented, and that employees know what they need to do to achieve it. Consider paying out different levels of bonus, depending on the standard of work or the level of attainment, if these areas can be clearly measured.
17. Invest in professional development
Learning and development is one of the most effective ways to motivate employees; conversely, lack of progression is a leading cause of people leaving their jobs. Leaders who value training are inferring that their people have potential and will grow.
Employees love to work in organisations which value and respect progression. Meet with your team to understand their aspirations, putting in place personal development plans which are attuned to turning strategy into action.
18. Involve employees in decisions
Devolving decision-making contributes to a sense of meaning and purpose. Employees who are empowered to make important decisions are motivated through feeling valued and respected for inputs they make.
Celebrate employees when they get decisions right, and constructively offer feedback or learning when needed, committing to this culture, even if the wrong decisions or steps are taken.
19. Encourage creativity
Creativity can motivate employees through developing ways to make work easier, more fun or more rewarding.
Foster creativity by assigning the right roles to the right people, rewarding and respecting creative thinking, and even redesigning workspaces to encourage creativity. You must allow your most creative people to function at their best, but never at the expense of the rest of their team.
20. Celebrate wins
Celebrating team wins drives team morale. Group celebrations, such as a cake, a bonus day off, a party, or a treat when a major goal is reached, demonstrates to the team that you value collective contributions, motivating them to keep pushing forward for future success.
21. Give them room to grow
There’s little point in driving a culture of learning if the team has little time to work on developing themselves.
Allow your team time and space to grow, ensuring that you help them reorganise tasks and team duties to facilitate time spent on earning new qualifications and growing technical abilities or soft skills.
22. Motivate individuals, not the team
Team motivation is important in some respects, but leaders must always have individual needs at the heart of their motivational strategy.
Everybody is unique. Employees have different needs and wants, are at different stages of their careers, and expect varying things from their employer. Take time to motivate employees individually, which will, in turn, sustain a wider motivational culture.
23. Communicate effectively
Communication is critical to motivation, beginning with effectively asking the right questions to understand what motivates your employees.
Honing your communication skills will enable you to be empathetic, support employees, deliver bad news appropriately and embody organisational culture. In short, effective communication can tie together many of these tips for motivating employees.
24. Show them the bigger picture
Demonstrate to your employees that what they do is important and contributes to wider goals or the organisational mission, which can often be ambiguous if you don’t explain it. Those employees who understand how their actions are linked to the bigger picture are more likely to be motivated to drive the organisation’s mission forward.
25. Ask them what they want
Make peace with there not being a universal playbook for motivating employees. Every employee will have different needs and wants. For example, despite learning and development being regarded as such a powerful motivational tool, there will be some people who have little desire to learn. You must regularly talk to your people and understand what motivates them to ensure that no one is left behind.
Learning how to motivate employees is vital, as it is the force behind changing behaviour, focusing on goals and, ultimately, driving organisations forward to get results. Leaders and HR professionals who motivate their employees will benefit from driven and committed people who understand how to contribute to organisational goals and make a difference, both collectively and as individuals.
Motivated employees are also happier employees. They will translate this happiness into looking after stakeholders such as teammates and customers, ensuring high levels of loyalty in every area of the organisation.
Do you have any additional tips on keeping employees motivated and engaged at work? Let us know in the comments section below!
This article is an update of an earlier version published on 17 December 2016.