The world of work has undergone massive change since March 2020, and with the pandemic that started then still dragging on, workplace motivation is suffering. After all, employees are leaving their jobs in numbers so large they have been dubbed the “Great Resignation.” Companies eager to retain workers and keep them happy on the job often end up offering bonuses and out-of-cycle salary increases to inspire greater effort and loyalty.
While financial rewards can effectively motivate employees and in turn boost productivity, business leaders can take many less costly steps to create a work environment where all employees feel energized and eager to contribute. Here are 11 tips to help boost morale and motivation among your staff.
1. Help Workers Stay Physically and Mentally Healthy
Workers who are healthy in body and mind may be more likely to stay motivated and continue to perform. They may also be less likely to take sick days. Companies can demonstrate their attention to employee wellness in several ways—for example, by providing health insurance with a focus on well-being, reimbursing gym memberships, encouraging frequent breaks during the workday, adding healthy snacks to the vending machine and providing access to meditation apps.
2. Make Work Engaging
Motivated employees are engaged employees. They are involved and enthusiastic about their work. But worker engagement was down for the first time in more than a decade in the second half of 2021, according to Gallup’s ongoing employee engagement study. Gallup surveyed a random sample of 57,022 full- and part-time employees from January to December of that year. To turn things around, Gallup recommends focusing on the basics: Ensure that employees know what is expected of them, provide employees with the right materials and equipment to do their jobs and give employees the opportunity to do what they do best.
3. Reward Employees With Time Off
Employees who take time off are less stressed and more engaged, more creative and more productive. Yet at many organizations, workers are not taking the time they are entitled to and often end the year leaving unused vacation time on the table. So consider giving the gift of time, not just in terms of generous vacation policies like unlimited PTO, but in other ways. For example, if you know an employee worked late a couple nights during the week to wrap up an important project, encourage the employee to take that Friday off. Not only will a restful break do the employee good, but feeling recognized for hard work may be likely to motivate them to go the extra mile for the company in the future.
4. Motivate Through Educational Courses
Learn comedy from a world-renowned comedian. Study U.S. presidential history and leadership with a respected biographer. Explore scientific thinking and communication with a leading astrophysicist. These are just a few of the courses you can find online and offer to your employees. In addition, could workers at your organization teach important skills to their peers? Lift them—and their colleagues—up by asking them to develop a course on a topic that taps into their expertise and helps advance company goals. After all, employee upskilling and reskilling has become crucial to business success. Imagine a class in closing sales over video meetings, mastering spreadsheets or prepping healthy meals. Providing the time, equipment, encouragement and promotion for such an endeavor would be a master class in itself.
5. Strike a Balance While Innovating
A company’s success depends on its ability to innovate. However, innovation can come at a cost: The drive to constantly innovate can mean longer hours, a faster pace and more stress—a recipe for burnout that can lead to higher employee turnover. So business leaders should look for ways to balance the drive to innovate with the need for employees to take care of themselves and their families. Managers should be clear in communicating their expectations, and they should take care not to inadvertently reward workers who are always on while punishing those who create a boundary between their work and home lives.
6. Take 'Shadow IT' Out of the Shadows
Technology isn’t just for IT experts anymore. With the cloud, SaaS, BYOD and the mainstreaming of open source, many “regular people” can implement the software and services required by small businesses. Yet companies discourage “shadow IT”—technology used without the knowledge or blessing of the IT department—because of the risks involved. However, if workers find software that will help them do their jobs more efficiently or allow them to enjoy the work more, it might be worth looking into a request and overseeing its safe use. Technology shouldn’t be a free-for-all, but business leaders can help improve motivation by respecting employees’ tech preferences.
7. Be Flexible With Remote Work
When the scope and seriousness of COVID-19 became apparent in early 2020, companies sent many employees home—including some who had always worked onsite. Workers got used to the flexibility and freedom that working from home provided, and in many cases businesses were pleasantly surprised to find that productivity increased. As the pandemic smoke clears, employers should be careful not to mandate strict in-office schedules, making sure to listen to employees and allow them to do what works best for them whenever possible. Some companies are even considering becoming “remote-first” employers. Even if it doesn’t make sense for an employee to go fully remote, workers can feel motivated when business leaders show some flexibility.
8. Make Work Meaningful
Meaningful work can be highly motivational, thus leading to improved performance, commitment and satisfaction. The more meaningful their work, the more people can derive a sense of pride or a job well done. For work to be meaningful, it often must have attributes like mattering to others, requiring reflective thought, being personal or making particular use of a given worker’s unique skills. Consider how your organization can tap into these features to make work more meaningful for employees.
9. Provide Authentic and Constructive Feedback
Employees who feel like they are working in a vacuum are not likely to be motivated—at least, not for long. It’s important for business leaders to provide ongoing, authentic and constructive feedback. It’s easy to let workers know that they’ve done a good job, but they need to know how and why. Set clear expectations and goals, and review with employees how effective they were in meeting them. It’s more difficult to address poor performance, but you’re not doing workers any favors by avoiding the discussion. It is particularly important to focus such conversations on potential future improvements, rather than past errors. And for employees who are doing a great job, make sure you go out of your way to let them know. A simple “thank you” can go a long way.
10. Look for Warning Signs of Demotivation
In addition to actively motivating employees, business leaders should be taking care to identify those who aren’t motivated. Look for high levels of absenteeism, poor performance or a withdrawal from in-person or online collaboration. Moreover, it’s important to understand why an employee isn’t motivated before trying to take corrective action. Otherwise, you could easily apply an ineffective—or worse—approach. An employee who is convinced they aren’t capable of doing a certain part of their job won’t be motivated by simple encouragement to work harder. Understanding the underlying cause enables business leaders to more effectively help demotivated employees, as well as demonstrate to all employees that their well-being and sense of purpose matters to the company.
11. Have Some Fun
One of the many benefits of a fun workplace is a more motivated workforce, according to an April 2021 article on job search site Indeed.com. How do you create a fun workplace? Host a variety of formal and informal activities that improve morale by reminding employees of their value. These activities can include games, celebrations, team-building activities and the recognition of milestones and achievements.
Create a Motivating Culture
The pandemic and the social and political unrest of the last few years have caused workers to take a hard look at their jobs and the way their professional lives do and don’t provide purpose. For that reason, maintaining workplace motivation is more important than ever. Motivation—or lack thereof—stems from company culture, so business leaders should take a bird's-eye view to assess the current state of motivation throughout the organization. From there, business leaders should zoom in on whether each worker appears motivated. The ultimate goal is to identify areas of demotivation, then set up a plan for improving motivation over the long haul.
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