Let's improve our employees' work motivation - it's easy (said no-one, ever)

Date: 28 Aug 2020

Author: Gabriella Barbara

Hey, everyone is feeling down and unproductive right now. Let's get our employees motivated! We'll do some stuff straight away to rev them up and instantly lift their spirits.

Well, no. Let's not.

It's well documented that motivated employees have consistently higher morale and are more productive. Naturally, we all want that for our business and our workforce. But before you rush out and try every possible approach that you find on the internet, first spend some time making sure that what you're planning will not be counterproductive.

So, what motivation approaches are there? And which one will result in the best outcome for your business and workforce?


Starbuck's takeaway coffee cup

The downside to some motivators

If you value sales above all things, and your salespeople are regularly offered extra bonuses for being high performers and bringing in that huge new client - that's great.

But what about the support person who just talked an irate client down off a 'your business is fired' ledge? Do you reward them equally for extending the lifetime value of that client's loyalty?

Uneven acknowledgement of your workers' value, especially when they are the unsung heroes in the business, is just plain annoying. And many will view it as unfair.

So before you even start to think about throwing out awards, cash, and free post-pandemic luxury cruises, it's essential to understand what motivates your employees, and what turns them off and makes them wish they worked elsewhere.


What are the two types of motivation strategies?

First, we have tangible rewards. Think financial motivators. Ginsu knives, business travel, expensive meals out, premium sports or concert tickets, and of course, cold hard cash.

The problem is, not everyone is motivated by the same things - and while cash is usually more than acceptable (most of us have mortgages after all), the value of other tangible rewards are not the same to everyone. For example, a new parent may cringe at the thought of having to spend ten days away from their new-born to attend a conference in Las Vegas. And a junior administrative assistant or creative thinker may feel they will never get noticed for their valuable behind-the-scenes work so will never be eligible to ‘win’.

The second strategy is to offer feel-good rewards.

This could be moving or promoting a staff member to a particular job they enjoy or aspire to. Or allowing them to work in a way that enriches their employee experience (for example, enjoying flexible hours, a paid day off for their birthday, working from home several days a week etc.). By making their overall work-life balance more pleasurable, they experience emotional and professional satisfaction. The reward isn’t linked to money or specific items, but a boost to their personal wellbeing, and that of those around them through the business’ professional, social and cultural initiatives.

However, like the tangible approach, the work-life balance rewards don't appeal to everyone. A high-flying salesperson may prefer the kudos and profile gained by attending an overseas conference, or the desire to own a brand-new European car, and be quite willing to work what others consider to be unreasonable hours to achieve that goal.


a thumbs up

So, what is an effective way to motivate your people?

Tangible motivators have uneven results. Yet the feel-good rewards don't appeal to everyone either.

Only once you understand what motivates your employees, can you tailor an effective motivation strategy. However, a programme designed to motivate the right people in the right way takes some thought. Some of your tactics may need to be long term and deep dive into the needs of your people to be wanted and appreciated. For many, it's enough to work for a company which has a caring, unifying culture, gives them purpose, and rewards all workers evenly and fairly.

Other more pragmatic tactics may support the need to deliver financial outcomes for the business and employee. For example, finishing the sales quarter with that last big win. (Bearing in mind that while these types of rewards are great for those who can, and want to shine, these tactics will isolate those who see the rewards as unattainable).


The answer?

I believe it’s all about taking a carefully considered and balanced approach to developing a motivational strategy. One that addresses the big-picture needs of your people to be happy and the immediate needs of the business to improve performance.

If your motivational strategy isn’t a win-win for everyone, you’re only going to lose ground and all that hard-earned goodwill.

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