6 tips for motivating your employees during lockdown

Date: 08 Sep 2021

Author: Jemini team

A woman holding her head in front of a laptop

Oh no! - not another lockdown… It’s no secret that the pandemic has been phenomenally hard for your people. It’s been a time for leadership to rise to the challenge and deliver more than just a motivational speech or a standard-issue company wide email. As you’ll fully appreciate, the pandemic turned life as we know it on its head.

You know the drill; your people have had to juggle work and childcare (becoming home-school teachers in some cases). There’s been the worry about loved ones at higher risk of contracting COVID or for those who work in high-risk environments. The upheaval in global markets has left people sick and anxious about their job security, along with the mortgage and rent responsibilities that go along with it. And to add insult to injury, many cities around the world have just gone back into yet another lockdown, taking away people’s newfound freedoms to travel, go outside and even return to their beloved office.

By now, most employers have already done the obvious. They’ve geared themselves up for remote working. People are all kitted out to access systems virtually and securely, along with access to virtual meeting platforms. What these systems didn’t solve was the serious drain on motivation that lockdown and remote working has caused.

It’s a tale of two different stories. When faced with adversity, some teams rise above and turn a tough situation into an opportunity. They manage to keep their productivity high and turn lemons into lemonade. For others, challenges and adversity sap their energy and they free-fall into a mood of adversity. Everyone wants their teams to be lemonade makers, rather than become angry lemons.

According to the highly respected Harvard Business Review, right now, home working is highly likely to be reducing the motivation of your people. In fact, even before the pandemic, they were busy researching the impacts of working from home. Between 2010 and 2015, they surveyed more than 20,000 workers around the world, from over 50 different companies. They did loads of different experiments to understand what motivates people and whether remote-working has an impact.

Overall, they found that working from home was less motivating. What amplified this lack of motivation was whether or not people had a choice in where they worked. For people who ‘were ordered’ to work from home, motivation dropped by 17%, making them officially ‘miserable’ according to Harvard Business Review’s cultural monitor.

Interestingly enough - one of the elements they identified as being crucial to motivation is Play - and this is something seriously lacking for people who are working alone and from home. In workplace terms, Play means the ability for people to interact with colleagues, solve problems with others and the ease of decision making when people are in one room. A person’s sense of purpose can also decline when working remotely. Their work can start to feel detached; they lose the direct visibility of seeing the value they add for colleagues or clients. Finally - people’s potential can decline in that they don’t have access to an environment where they can learn like a sponge, absorbing all from the colleagues around them.

Needs must - how can we motivate people when lockdown is out of our control?

For the majority of employers, the remote vs in-office argument is irrelevant. Lockdown is something that has been mandated by governments and authorities beyond our control. What we need are practical, scalable ways to make the best of this situation and motivate people to the best of their ability. So here are 6 ways to get the most out of your people, even during these extraordinary times

You've got this employee motivation

6 tips for motivating your employees - even during lockdown

1. Let your people rise to the challenge

During the financial crisis that started in 2008, Harvard researchers found that financial analysts had some of the highest motivation levels of their careers, even despite working 18 hour days. Military veterans often speak of their deployments rousing adrenaline, getting them locked and loaded for whatever might be ahead. Even in our neighborhoods - the first lockdowns saw people organise support groups and start entrepreneurial endeavors. Fitness instructors didn’t down tools - they took their kit home and started streaming fitness classes online (often for free). Give your employees a challenge and a real sense of responsibility. It can be tempting to take pity on people and encourage them to take their foot off the gas. Rouse your troops like you were going into battle - and you might be pleasantly surprised as your people ‘report for duty’ and show you what they’re made of.

2. If you want people to be engaged, you have to make their work engaging

Let’s go all the way back to 1924. Professor George Elton Mayo secured fame

as the leader in a series of experiments which became one of the great turning-points in management thinking. At the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric, he discovered that job satisfaction increased through employee participation in decisions rather than through short-term incentives. Professor Mayo visited a spinning mill in Philadelphia, where labour turnover was 250% compared with an average of 6% in other departments of the company. Through a series of experiments, he realised that giving people autonomy about the way they design and do their jobs is one of the keys to motivation. It’s now 2021, and nothing has changed.

In switching people to remote-working, it has been tempting to micro-manage every little detail in people’s work. After all, you worry about them following the process. You worry about them being distracted by other things at work. Common sense has suggested that strict processes, rules and procedures are the key to maximizing productivity and output. But the reverse is actually true.

Whilst some degree of boundaries and guidelines help people move quickly, too many create a vicious spiral of demotivation. In such cases, people stop thinking creatively, become bored and before you realise it, they’re doing the bare minimum.

Trust people, and focus on outputs, rather than processes.

3. Employees who are empowered to experiment are more motivated

To really make people feel engaged, you need to let them experiment. This gives them a sense of creation and mastery. Let them work on solving the wicked problems that need a solution. Ask them: “given these tough times, how can we better serve our customers?”, “How can we drive growth even during these crazy times?” or “what’s broken that we can fix together?”. Not every challenge needs to be a hefty initiative or spend that will require CEO approval. It can be people finding ways to optimise the things they do on a daily basis. Or it could be coming together as a team and finding a way to turn a bricks-and-mortar operation into an online-based one. You’ll be happy to know that there’s a real business ROI for doing this. Being allowed to experiment or solve meaningful problems gives you a 45% boost in employee motivation.

4. What you measure is how you show your people what you care about

Employee motivation isn’t a taboo subject. It’s ok to talk about it openly and freely. It’s perfectly OK to have an open discussion with your people acknowledging that remote-working is a challenge and ask people to get involved with brainstorming ideas on how to make it more interesting and more motivating.

Think about what you measure - as this shows your people what you really care about. Think about measuring motivation using your performance management software. It can be a quick and easy way to deploy pulse surveys on a regular basis, so you can see how motivation rises and drops as lockdown progresses. Where appropriate, share the results with your teams and let everyone contribute to sharing ideas on how everyone can help each other.

5. Communicate little and often

When people are working from home, they miss the hubbub or background noise of the office. Even when you’re focused on your work, you notice people coming and going and tune into the different conversations that happen every day. When people are working remotely, they’re bound to miss that. Ensure to give people opportunities to get together on a regular basis. This could be your Monday morning standup where you review the plans for the week.

You might ask questions like:

  1. What impact did we have last week and what did we learn?
  2. What is on this week and are we on track to deliver on time?
  3. How can we help each other this week to deliver fully?
  4. How can we experiment this week to improve performance?

Why not make time for downtime. Eat lunch together in a catch-up over Microsoft Teams. Have a weekly quiz. Or do a virtual book review club.

Whatever you do, don’t leave your people in silence. Come together little and often. It will make a huge difference.

6. Over-communicate - and don’t forget about appraisal reviews

Don’t let employee evaluations get forgotten about when people are not in the office. This is when your performance appraisal system needs to come into its own. Diarise regular reviews with your teams and individuals so you can check performance, provide coaching and direction as well as detecting any problems or blockers that are preventing people from working optimally.

A performance management system can lighten the load for you, automating the scheduling of reviews and providing a secure portal where employees can conduct their reviews, provide confidential or anonymous feedback and even praise each other.

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