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Steps to Motivate Your Employees

Jennifer Post
Jennifer Post

Follow these tips to keep your employees motivated and excited about the work they do.

In an ideal world, your employees would be self-motivated at all times and not require and extra motivation from you. However, rarely is what happens.

In a recent survey on employee boredom, Korn Ferry found that 33% of professionals planned to look for a new job due to boredom and the need for new challenges in their current position. It's difficult to work for the same company when you don't feel motivated, and while the survey reported numbers for 2018, it's a trend that stretches into the new decade.

With the right attitude, you can create a workplace that is not only fun but comprises hard workers who boost your business and create a positive company culture. If you're looking for fresh ways to motivate your employees, consider the five recommendations below.

1. Only ask employees to do things you're willing to do yourself.

If you want good workers, you have to show them that respectable principles are what you – and your company – are all about. It's not enough to tell them you expect X, Y, and Z when you don't live by those values yourself.

"When leaders model culturally aligned behavior, it gives permission and encouragement to folks to 'do the right thing'," said Monica Parker, founder of HATCH Analytics Ltd. "Further, it can model very practically the steps to take to achieve successful outcomes. Without this, motivation is just talk."

A common saying is that good bosses don't ask their employees to do things they aren't willing to do themselves.

"If there are rules and a company policy that is imposed from the senior management, the most important thing for the employees is to see that these rules and restrictions are important to the CEOs and superiors in the company," said Lora Georgieva, digital marketing specialist at B2B travel agency, ProExpo Services. "If they are the first executing specific actions, following rules, etc., it means that these activities/rules are not only written to be part of standard inside rules but actual company culture."

Even if workers see their leader doing something just once, they feel better about doing said task in the future, knowing that even though their boss could do it, they trust their employees to handle it. It leads to a big boost in confidence, and employees feel more motivated to do good work for the company.

It's simple: If you want your business staffed by hard workers, be a hard worker. If you want honest feedback, be honest with yourself when you get constructive criticism. Be open and upfront with your employees. If you want respect and fairness, show that to your workers. Don't single anyone out or pick favorites. People instantly pick up on it, and it can lead to a negative environment.

Once you lead by example, you'll see a return almost immediately.

Estimated time of completion: Three to five weeks

"On an individual level, you may be able to see results quite quickly – within a few weeks," Parker said. "But keep in mind that 'motivational leadership' is not a cure at all. Unrealistic deadlines or metrics, poor resourcing, an otherwise toxic environment – these are all foundational elements that have to be met before motivation will have its desired effect."

2. Ask employees what they want from your workplace culture.

Your first inclination as a leader may not be to check with your employees about what they want from your company's workplace culture, but a TINYPulse 2019 Employee Engagement Report reported that less than one-third of people believed their company had a strong culture. Further, respondents reported they would leave their current job for a lower-paying one if the culture was better.

In a separate survey by Heartbeat by Peakon, 35% of 2,000 respondents reported that their manager listens to them frequently or very frequently. That leaves two-thirds of employees who feel unheard at work.

As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure your employees feel safe, welcomed, and cared for. Tell your employees regularly that you are interested in what they have to say, that they have autonomy, and that they're a valuable asset to the business moving forward. Express gratitude for their hard work, and let them know you don't take them for granted.

Parker recommended taking these additional steps as well:

  • Recognize there will be a period of great adjustment within the company and have a high level of tolerance for change
  • Be clear with managers and employees on the desired outcomes and accountabilities
  • Commit the resources (people, money, time, political capital) to change
  • Hire external professionals to determine and deliver the action steps needed to create a sustainable change in behaviors
  • Empower people to enact change at every level of the organization

Estimated time of completion: 18 months to three years

 "If all these conditions are met, 18 months should produce meaningful change and another 12 months to really embed the behaviors so they aren't new, but rather, 'This is how we do things around here'," Parker said.

3. Assign tasks, and let employees complete it with little intervention.

If you want productive, intelligent, hard-working employees, treat them as skilled, capable professionals. There are far too many employers who micromanage employees, looking over their shoulder, not trusting that they will complete tasks within deadlines, and talking down their abilities. Step back, and let your workers do their job. Delegate tasks to them, and then leave them alone.

You may be the boss, but the work these individuals do for your company is invaluable, and you can't afford to lose them.

Think of different ways you can demonstrate your trust. Ask for suggestions on how they could feel more respected and appreciated. Determine a compromise that addresses both parties' wants and needs, and meet in the middle.

Estimated time of completion: A few weeks to a few months

 Once an employer realizes that micromanaging is not a beneficial quality, change can happen very quickly, but it won't happen overnight. For many leaders, that type of management is engrained and re-learning a new method of management takes time. If both parties openly communicate and are willing to work together to achieve that change, the transition should go smoothly in no time at all.

4. Actively listen to employee concerns by asking open-ended questions and engaging in a two-way conversation.

As a leader, it's important that when an employee is expressing concerns to you, that you absorb what they're saying and take actionable steps to improve the situation.

If your employees feel that what they say or think doesn't matter, they'll believe their work doesn't matter either, and that is one of the easiest ways to lose faithful people who add value to your company.

The Employee Voice survey points out that employees "aren't asking for magic tricks – they just want the basics." Active listening isn't just nodding your head to show that you're listening, it's asking open-ended questions, asking for suggestions, being part of the conversation, and detailing how you will address what your employees are telling you. Two-way conversation conveys that you care about making real change.

One of the questions in the Employee Voice survey is "If you had a magic wand, what's the one thing you would change about your organization?" The second most prevalent answer was "communication." This shows that there is significant room for improvement, which means employers need to take action.

Estimated time of completion: Immediately to about six months

 Putting a time frame on results is difficult, because it rests on the leader to enact change. If the employer is striving to make a real effort to listen to employee needs, there could be immediate results.

5. Tell your employees just how valuable they are.

A TINYPulse survey calls recognition the "secret sauce of employee engagement." What's more motivating than positive reinforcement? For employees, not much.

Only 1 in 3 people felt that they were recognized the last time they went the extra mile at work, and only 26% of employees reported feeling highly valued at work. Those are bleak statistics, especially considering 33% of people said they feel flat out undervalued.

There are many reasons why managers fail to recognize employees, according to Alice Kemper, founder of Sales Training Werks. One reason is that managers think they don't need to give praise. "I've heard managers say, 'I hired adults to do their job; I don't need to give them praise,' and 'I don't need praise, so they don't either'," Kemper said.

Other reasons Kemper pointed to as to why managers don't recognize employees for a job well done include the following:

  • They don't know how to effectively deliver praise and acknowledgment.
  • They intend to give praise and acknowledgment but don't get around to it.
  • They believe it's a sign of weakness as a manager to deliver praise.

 Estimated time of completion: Immediately to about six months

Multiple studies show what employee engagement should look like, yet there's still a huge gap between what employees want and what they have.

All of that, however, can change if leaders invest real effort into creating meaningful change.

Additional reporting by Jared Atchison.

Jennifer Post
Jennifer Post,
business.com Writer
Jennifer Post graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. Having worked in the food industry, print and online journalism, and marketing, she is now a freelance contributor for Business News Daily and business.com. When she's not working, you will find her exploring her current town of Cape May, New Jersey, or binge-watching "Pretty Little Liars" for the 700th time.