The dos and don'ts of employee motivation
A fully engaged and enthusiastic team may seem like a tall order. But teams like this do exist! The key? Employee motivation.
This isn't to say that your employees are going to be fully engaged ALL of the time. However, you can ensure that the good days far outweigh the bad, and ensure your employees feel supported even on those off days.
In this article, we'll explore employee motivation and how you can leverage it to improve performance and create happier employees.
Where you’re going wrong with employee motivation
Get employee motivation right, and the impact will be felt in every facet of your business, from sales to office management. Motivation in your workplace will propel your business forward, encourage innovation and even better, will attract the very best talent in the job market. In the best cases, these business benefits will be forged from the bottom up.
However, behaviours you’d like to see in the organisation must be demonstrated by leadership first. Poor leadership styles can be a big blocker of employee motivation - and such issues typically present themselves in one of two guises:
- Managerial disassociation
This refers to the type of manager who is never 'seen' and not on hand to help. It is likely you’ve seen this kind of manager - reminiscent of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. You know the one - there for the big important meetings, and while otherwise largely absent - even when things start to unravel.
This kind of leadership can become apparent in large organisations where the chain of command is so stratified that managers seem removed from the everyday. Employee/ leader interaction loses its dynamism and often employees fail to complete tasks - not because they’re lazy or incompetent - but because they become disengaged with the importance or relevance of the task at hand.
The opposite side of the spectrum and arguably worse: Micromanagement is harder to quantify but generally, it's when managers become too involved in their employees work, to the point where productivity slows due to interference. Remember Monica from Friends, redoing all of Rachel's cleaning because it's not exactly how she likes it?
At best, this style of management is counterproductive and slows down the rate of work. At worst, it can give employees the impression that management doesn't trust or value their work - ultimately resulting in a pretty demoralising and toxic situation.
Striking a balance between direction and facilitation is the mark of a good manager and needs to start at the top, trickling through all levels of leadership.
How does employee motivation work?
Much like management style, employee motivation swings between two poles: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Both are required for an optimal, productive and happy workforce.
1. Intrinsic motivation
Intrinsic means naturally, or from within. Therefore, intrinsic motivation refers to an individual’s personal drive to complete a task. This type of motivation is most effective as it's self-fulfilling. If a person wants to do something, they'll need very little encouragement to do it.
Intrinsic motivation can be either positively motivated or in response to a negative outcome. Positive motivation can be seen in competitive sports, where athletes push themselves to the limit for the positive reward - the win. Negative motivation can also be seen in competitive sports, if a coach threatens a team with 100 burpees per practice for losing a match.
Evidence shows, as you might expect, that positive motivation has a greater and more enduring impact on individual and team performance than negative.
2. Extrinsic motivation
Extrinsic motivation is an external influence that gives individuals more transparent, delineated goals that push the individual further than they would push themselves. It is exactly the reason that personal trainers are so popular.
Typically, in the workplace, it is the role of a manager to implement a carrot and stick formula for workers. On the one hand, there needs to be set goals, objectives, and deadlines to help produce and structure motivation. On the other, it's also important to have the positive motivation - the incentives, rewards, ongoing encouragement and clear career progression to help entice employees to push themselves.
4 steps tip top employee motivation
The key to having consistently motivated staff is to create a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It's a delicate formula, one that has to be taken case-by-case but we've developed some broad tips that are beneficial no matter your model:
Praise is a rare and precious bridge between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation because it acts as both incentive and inspiration. Research from Harvard Business School shows the importance of in-the-moment feedback, demonstrating praise as hugely beneficial.
This doesn't mean managers should ignore failure. It's important to acknowledge mistakes, and help staff to course-correct, but not to dwell, especially if the staff member learns from the mistake. The best managers will accept mistakes or shortcomings at face value and give in-the-moment feedback.
There is a tendency among managers to treat the everyday good work of employees as par for the course, and only give praise for the extraordinary. However, this isn't an accurate reflection of the cumulative effort that goes into tasks. In team sports, it's not just the scorer who's given credit; each player will have contributed in a vital way to make the goal happen. The same logic applies in the workplace: if you only reward goal-scorers or goal-scoring behaviour, teamwork and morale will dive.
While it's true that intrinsic motivation comes from within, it's not completely immune from external influence. To access that inner motivation, people need to be inspired.
A compelling and dynamic vision for the company or even the specific project your people are working on helps to keep people connected with their direction. This inspires passion and deep motivation that can endure even through hard times.
It won't come as a surprise to anyone that passion alone isn't enough to sustain motivation. Alongside zeal, companies need a remuneration package that satisfies the more economic aspects of human nature. We're all a little mercantile deep down, it's why people take promotions and change jobs, even if they're happy in their current role.
Saying that, a pay cheque is not enough on its own to make employees feel valued - in fact, while providing a form of financial security, benefits that relate to health and wellbeing, additional financial discounts and benefits or everyday treats can help people to feel safe and cared for. As part of the overall employee experience, think about what employee benefits your employees could value.
4. Switching off
Motivation is finite. A good analogy is a car battery; If you leave the ignition switch on accessories for too long, the battery will go flat. The same is true of employee burnout. If there isn't time for employees to recharge, their productivity will flatline.
Unfortunately, there's no quick fix or a way to sidestep this. Humans need downtime. So one of the best ways to motivate your staff, both extrinsically and intrinsically, is to encourage a healthy work/life balance.
On a basic level, this means making sure people clock off when they are meant to and encouraging your employees to take their ascribed annual leave. Remember the best way to encourage this behaviour is for leadership to model it (employees rarely feel bad about doing something their boss does).
Employee motivation is a huge driver of company performance and is made up of a delicate, yet completely achievable balance of leadership initiatives. Be sure to balance vision and facilitation with regular feedback and praise. Meanwhile, why not get the perks and rewards your employees would love and use, for a simple yet impressive boost to morale?