If you’ve ever groaned when the alarm sounded in the morning, dreading yet another day at a dead-end job, then you already know why motivation in the workplace is so important. You don’t want anyone on your team to feel that way, any more than you would. That salt-mine mentality takes an emotional toll on employees, and it’s bad for business. Gallup has put the total production loss from disengaged workers at $7 trillion.
If that hits too close to home, something needs to change. Your organization’s bottom line depends on employees who give their best daily, for the long-term. Your people aren’t sled dogs, so yelling “Mush!” won’t work.
Emma Seppala’s Harvard Business Review article “To Motivate Employees, Do 3 Things Well” lays out what does work: inspiration, encouraging self-care, and kindness. While these aren’t complicated ideas, they are crucial to promoting motivation in the workplace—you have to get them right. Let’s look at some of the best ways to make that happen.
What You Can Do to Foster Motivation in the Workplace
Inspire People: Connect Work To Things That Matter
People work for a lot of different reasons: a sense of accomplishment; working with the public and talking with different people; interesting work; and, of course, to pay the bills. Regardless of what drives them, the constant they all share is the desire to do something that matters. Having that purpose is key to employee engagement. That’s why inspiration is such a great motivator. Connecting someone’s contributions to meaningful results—making some part of the world better—is far more effective at motivating employees than money. REI, for instance, is built around the concept of love of the outdoors. The co-op proves it by giving employees paid time off (known as Yay Days) to enjoy nature and making Black Friday a company-wide holiday.
Companies can also inspire employees with Volunteer Days, which let them focus on causes that are important to them. This is an especially good option if your organization isn’t already cause-oriented. The Humane Society and Peace Corps have a jumpstart on inspiring their people. Call centers (e.g.) may have to work harder at it.
Treat People Well: Employees Need Time Away From Work
Encouraging self-care is more than just distributing yoga studio passes or even offering a great health plan. The best gym membership in the world is no good if you don’t have time to use it. Promoting self-care includes creating a workplace culture where people feel comfortable taking paid time off. That is the type of support that inspires people to contribute their best work.
If your organization surveys its people regularly, you can directly ask them if they are encouraged to take personal time off. If employees don’t get word from the top that it’s okay to take their vacation days or other time off, they may be getting mixed messages. That’s a management issue. If your workflow can’t make room for people having some breathing room and taking sick days, you need to increase headcount, improve efficiency, or reconsider your assumptions about how hard you can work people. Although workplace considerations like mandatory breaks can help reduce burnout, it’s best to consider employee well-being as a whole: are your people getting the downtime they need?
Be Kind: Public Recognition and Real Rewards
Public recognition is a low-cost, high-reward way to motivate employees, with multiple benefits:
- More productive workers and team creativity
- Greater employee engagement
- Better recruitment, morale, and retention
That’s really straightforward, so it’s surprising how many organizations get it wrong. Recognition that doesn’t come from the highest levels (ownership and senior management), is never coupled with actual rewards, or isn’t actually public (“Attn Recipient: Congratulations on your achievement!”) falls short and can be counter-productive. The idea is to motivate people, not sink their morale by treating them like just another number.
That goes for incentive programs as well. Often paired with recognition programs, they are seen as positive reinforcement for specific behaviors that help organizations achieve their strategic goals. In other words, reward your best people for helping you make your numbers and they will continue to make your numbers.
Like public recognition, incentives have to be given in a personal and clearly merited way. You need to structure programs to make people feel professional pride and encourage people to do their personal best instead of encouraging cut-throat competition and cheating (which does indeed happen). Equally important, rewards should be worthy of the name; whether you call them alternative compensation or prizes or swag or gear, make sure people feel like they’re getting something worth having. This is not the time to skimp. It’s much more economical to reward a good employee than to hire and train a new one.
What To Do About it: Recognize and Reward
Unmotivated employees can become workplace zombies—never a good sign. Since employee recognition is so closely related to employee engagement, an incentive program can produce a great ROI. An incentive program, with clearly-defined and transparent requirements for achieving specified tiered rewards, can help inspire your workforce, with public recognition coming from the highest levels of management and peers alike. If someone wears a reward like a high-quality branded jacket to work, their colleagues notice and further promote the reward through word-of-mouth. Wouldn’t you feel a sense of pride when others see what you have accomplished?
The right incentive program, customized to help your organization reach its strategic goals, can be a very cost-effective way of motivating your team, yielding better results than financial compensation alone. Inproma’s incentive programs are designed to do just that. If your team needs some motivation to hit specific metrics, or you’re concerned they might be slowly headed to Zombieland, we should talk.