“How do I motivate employees?”

Motivating people is always a popular topic, but it’s taking on new importance as leaders struggle to boost productivity without killing morale and risking an increase in employee turnover.

Rather than asking what one should do, it may be more useful to talk about the things that need to stop.

Here’s what we mean.

The pandemic has made managing people even harder, and many leaders are resorting to behaviours that can do a lot more harm than good, including:

  • Becoming invisible to employees now that all are working remotely, with the result that employees feel less supported,
  • Expecting employees to be “always-on” and immediately responsive to emails,
  • Using technology to monitor employee activities,
  • Over-reliance upon meetings, as a proxy for keeping tabs on productivity.

Things to stop doing – immediately

These tactics, and others like them, can quickly become motivation killers. To put a finer point on it, if you want to motivate your people, stop doing these things:

  • Micromanagement: There’s no more thorough way to sap a person’s motivation than to micromanage them. Micromanagement signals to the employee that they’re not trusted, and it removes autonomy, choice, and control – all drivers of engagement – from the individual, closing off opportunities for them to make positive changes and shutting down ideas and innovation.
  • Wasting employees’ time: Activities that waste time, such as meetings that go far too long (or involve too many people,) redundant work, or meaningless virtual “check-ins,” frustrate employees, robbing them of time they need to get the work for which they are accountable done, meaning they’re probably going to wind up working longer hours than otherwise necessary, leading to…
  • Destroying peoples’ work-life balance: Expecting employees to be always on, expecting people to return email on the weekend, and requiring employees to cart their laptops with them on holidays so they can “be available” are great ways to wreck work-life balance for employees.
  • Failing to recognise contribution and effort: In addition to simply making people feel valued, appreciation and recognition provide important signals that shape behaviour by reinforcing priorities, helping employees stay focused on key objectives. Leaders who fail to offer genuine recognition of and gratitude for their employees’ efforts and achievements miss out on generating goodwill and steering behaviour in positive ways, and leave their people with an indelible feeling of “why bother.”

Welcome to the disengagement zone 

There’s a simple term for what happens when the effects of micromanagement, time-wasting activities, a lack of recognition, and having no work-life balance all come to bear, and that’s ‘disengagement.’ This is where the problems begin.

Engaged employees bring their best selves to work, and are enthusiastic about and committed to their work and their employer. They relish playing an active role in the business and are willing to go the extra mile.

A disengaged employee is the polar opposite, and no longer cares about the work they do or the company they work for. At their worst, actively disengaged employees are miserable and spread dissent and unhappiness to others on the team. They’re also less productive, more likely to take unscheduled absences, and are also at a much higher risk of leaving the organisation.

Build sustained motivation by engaging your employees

As we’ve written previously, the difference between running an engaged organisation and one that isn’t can be profound.

“When you have an engaged team, the organisation runs itself,” Stefan notes. “There’s less reactivity. You’re not having to react to negative issues, because the team is ahead of them. You’ll see fewer problems because an engaged team will be solving those as they arise. You hear about problems after they’re solved. The day-to-day is handled. People know what they do, and they do it. There’s less weight placed on the shoulders of the leader.” 

Things to start doing 

In our experience, the issues most commonly raised in initial employee engagement surveys are simple to achieve and are powerful motivators, including:

  • More communication from leadership,
  • A better understanding of the company’s strategy (and how their role contributes),
  • Improved clarity around roles, responsibilities, and goals,
  • More recognition for individual contributions.

As you can see, none of these are expensive to enact. But don’t let the simplicity of these actions fool you: when leaders provide the vision for the future and communicate the plans for getting there, and ensure each employee understands their role, that’s pure energy. Taking it a step further, and ensuring people understand their roles, and have what they need to do the job, that’s motivating – there is a wide green field in front of them and they have a clear path to run. Achievable goals and authentic recognition fuel sustainable motivation. Put all this together, and people understand the “why” behind their work, have the resources and guidance they need to do the job, a clear path to meet their goals, and are rewarded for their efforts.

Putting it together to improve employee motivation – quickly 

The first step is to assess your organisation and understand which teams are struggling in particular – this will help you isolate the areas in the organisation where some of the harmful behaviors we highlighted are occurring, so you can work with those leaders to make a change.

Additionally, the assessment should also net employee feedback upon which you can act quickly to improve alignment and engagement. As we mentioned previously, enacting the simple suggestions you receive can have a remarkably positive impact on the organization.

There are a host of ways you can acquire this information, but the common denominator is this – you have to gather employee feedback. If you ask, they will tell you. Initiate a series of round table meetings, host town halls, or, for the swiftest results, field a survey of your employees. A good survey will show you at-a-glance where the hotspots are. Speaking of a good survey, if you don’t have an employee engagement survey platform in-house, we invite you to take the first step toward motivating your team and use our platform at no charge. Click the link below for the details.