Work Motivation: 5 Ways to Motivate Your Employees

If you’re a manager, the following situation probably sounds eerily familiar…

Your employees started out bright, energetic, full of ideas. But lately? Not so much. Now they’re going through the motions, despondent and seem bored. They’re getting complacent, sloppy — apathetic even.

It is totally normal for employees to face dips in work motivation, but it becomes a problem when they are consistently disengaged. Luckily, Links International’s top 5 tips to motivating your workforce are neither industry-specific nor costly. They can be applied to any business, whether you’re a small establishment, a franchise or a Fortune 500 company.

In order to understand how to motivate employees, you should first understand what’s truly motivating them.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards

Money is important. We all have to eat and pay rent. But when it comes to work motivation, money has its limits.

A seminal study conducted by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman demonstrated that money doesn’t contribute to overall happiness once salary exceeds US$75,000. Income beyond this threshold has little impact on our day-to-day contentment. As an extrinsic motivator, it is inefficient.

Intrinsic motivation is different. This kind of motivation supports people on a personal level and nurtures what they believe in and stand for, such as their purpose, values, autonomy, progress and relationships. Not only does this work the most effectively, but it also lasts the longest. This is known as sustainable happiness.

Instead of throwing money at the problem and hoping it will sort itself out, create core values that express the essence of why your company exists at all. Whom do you serve? What issues do you work to solve? What are the behaviours and ethics driving your business’s approach and outlook on the industry? Make these values highly visible and imbue your culture with them.

Okay, so you know the importance of motivation — but how to motivate employees?

1) Recognize Fantastic Work

Let’s start with something basic, something many managers underestimate: recognition. This is integral to building a strong and motivated workforce. Recognition creates an emotional connection between employer and employee. This is a critical aspect of employee engagement. 70% of employees state that their morale and workplace productivity would dramatically increase if only their superiors recognized their hard work more. After all, if someone has put a huge amount of effort into a project which has seen exceptional results but their hard work hasn’t been recognized, why would they continue to perform to such high standards?

Recognition fulfils an employee’s basic need to feel confidence, esteem and belonging within the team. People crave it because it confirms that they are on the right path. Recognition also benefits managers because it encourages employees to continue these proactive behaviors. Remember, too, that the very act of giving and receiving recognition makes both parties feel good, thanks to the hit of the so-called feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine.

Recognition can easily be cost-free. Send a thoughtful email, give them a handwritten note — even a passing comment filled with sincerity is enough to brighten your employee’s day. Recognition is best when it’s personalised. Some people like their names up in lights (so to speak), others are more than happy with an email. It’s your job as a manager to understand your employees’ individual needs.

If you have cash to spare, then an alternative way to show recognition is to implement spot bonuses, where you provide your employees with an on-the-spot reward to show them your appreciation for their hard work. Whether it’s cash, a gift card or something with a personal touch, a spot bonus demonstrates firsthand to employees that their work is appreciated by the organization and motivates them to work harder and build upon these values.

2) Grant Autonomy

People value their freedom heavily. We all want to feel in control of our time and energy, and a lack of agency is a surefire way to torpedo workplace productivity.

Granting autonomy demonstrates trust in your team. It goes a long way towards forming the emotional bond between employer and employee that you see at those companies that are highly engaged.

Let people own their work and ask for help only if they desire it. This builds relationships far more organically and negates any impression you might otherwise give of constantly pushing an agenda. In the long run, this builds more self-sufficient teams because they create their own process and you learn how to work with — and for — them.

Despite these benefits, autonomy is not the norm for most businesses. Managers fear that giving their direct reports too much leeway will create a lax environment and employees will take advantage. Cracking the proverbial whip is seen as a way to prevent slacking off.

When managers let their employees be their best and challenge themselves, everyone grows together. The key is to give your team a true sense of ownership — not just over their most important projects, but over more day-to-day aspects of work, such as schedule and time off. The ability to exert control over time can be as motivating as the satisfaction that comes with seeing a project through to completion.

For example, consider allowing your employees to set their own hours. This shows trust and demonstrates that you have no intention of constantly looking over their shoulders. Focus on the outcome instead of rules and you’ll be amazed at how motivated your employees become!

3) Champion Friendly Competition

Competition can be a great motivator. The challenge is not only to get your top performers to perform better but also to train them to pull up everyone around them and build a well-oiled machine.

Plan your competition around a specific business goal and reward teams, not individuals. The trick to keeping work competition friendly is to promote fair play. Although individual successes can be hugely rewarding, team wins can have an even greater impact.

It’s important to find the right balance when incentivizing your team. A combination of individual and group goals, along with clear rules that promote collaboration over sabotage, is essential to long-term success. Just make sure that the emphasis remains on friendly. If things get out of hand, conflict may arise and you’ll see morale and teamwork deteriorate.

4) Offer a Clear Path for Advancement

Nothing saps work motivation like employees feeling they’re stuck in dead-end jobs. You can combat this by outlining a path for your employee’s career with learning and development programs.

Some employers have a tough time committing to a growth plan in case it ultimately leads to employees departing; but, in today’s economy, it’s essential to value ‘graduation’ over retention. Why? Because the growth of your business depends on the growth of the individuals at your company. Therefore, it’s inevitable that people will grow out of their roles. If people follow such paths and eventually move on to different companies, don’t fret! It just means your system is working how it should.

Have team members identify 3 personal goals and 3 professional goals. Ensure they include both short- and long-term targets. Then identify their current skillsets and compare them with those skillsets that their goals may require.

5) Introduce Novelty

When your team can’t find the motivation to complete even basic, familiar tasks, adding more work to employees’ plates by taking on a new project is probably the last strategy you should consider.

However, switching gears can work wonders when it comes to solving your team’s motivational rut. This is because of neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to change. When you give your brain a novel task or problem, it gleefully rises to the challenge. Research suggests that, to your brain, change feels like a welcome break. When you switch gears, your brain becomes invigorated by the new information it gets to take in and challenges it gets to tackle.

Try presenting your team with a new project that is both challenging and also completely different from the work that has gone stale. By the time the new project is completed, the old project might have returned to a state of novelty. Pull the switch again, and your employees might dive right back into the old project with renewed vigour.

You’ll be amazed at the impact of your changes

Work motivation is a huge deal in any industry, any company. Understanding how to motivate employees and implementing some of the ideas mentioned here can work wonders for your organization. Even reading this article means your team is lucky to have someone who cares about them and wants to help them be more meaningfully engaged with their work!

When you empower everyone on your team or in your organization to give each other frequent, timely, visible, specific, inclusive and values-oriented recognition, workplace productivity skyrockets and sparks of motivation can come from anywhere. At Links International, we understand this. Our award-winning recruitment services are designed to cover every aspect of your HR processes and have made us a leader in HR outsourcing in Asia.

Check out our useful job search and salary guide to see what prospects are out there for you and your career, and to help you know your value and worth within your respective field. You can also get in touch with our specialists today who will be delighted to help you with any of your HR-related queries.