Constructive advice for motivating employees

Posted on

It’s mid-July, right in the middle of summer. Many of you are probably on vacation while others are struggling to find the motivation to work. Finding the motivation to accomplish various tasks can be quite challenging, especially this time of year. If you are a people manager and you need to motivate others, this is even more difficult. In this blog article, I would like to share with you some basic facts about motivation and five tips on how to motivate employees.

Some interesting facts about motivation

A lot of research has been done on motivation, the process that controls certain behaviors. Motivation is often defined as intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within; it refers to motivation that is driven by a genuine interest or enjoyment in the task itself. For instance, someone might love to write novels and keeps a journal only for his or her own sake. Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside; it refers to the motivation behind performing a task based on the reward it will provide. For instance, someone writes a novel to sell it to a magazine for a sum of money. There are many different theories about motivation; one that really resonated with me when I first heard about it from my professor at London Business School was Herzberg’s two-factor theory. In his research on job satisfaction he distinguishes between motivators and hygiene factors:

  • Motivators arise from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, and personal growth
  • Hygiene factors arise from extrinsic factors such as salary, benefits, work conditions, etc.

The interesting finding is that the hygiene factors need to be met in order not to cause dissatisfaction, but they have a low impact on increased job satisfaction. So for example, an increase in salary is a good remedy for an employee who is dissatisfied, but it isn’t the right solution for someone who is content but looking to increase job satisfaction. In this case, increased recognition and responsibility would be more effective.

The bottom line is that you need to understand and work on both motivators and hygiene factors. To increase job satisfaction you need to focus on the motivators such as recognition, interesting work tasks for your employees, growth opportunities and increased responsibility. To decrease job dis-satisfaction you need to take care of your hygiene factors such as company bureaucracy, work conditions, salaries and benefits.

Now that you know a little bit about motivational theory, I wanted to share the five things I believe to be most important when it comes to motivating employees.

1. Lead by example

If you are a manager, it’s really important to be aware that your emotions are contagious. If you are energetic and optimistic about the work you and your team are doing, your employees will reflect this emotion. If you feel unmotivated, if you have no energy to get your work done and you are wasting time doing other non-important things, this will be very obvious to your employees and they will become demotivated. So make sure to start with yourself and your own motivation before you try to motivate your employees.

2. Respect and “see” your employees

As human beings, we all have a congenital need to be seen. Make sure to greet your employees when you meet them in the morning. According to a Swedish management article I read, 60 percent said the most important sign of respect was that their manager said hello to them in the morning. You might regard this as trivial, but you would be surprised by the number of managers who just walk into their office in the morning without greeting his or her employees. Talk to your employees every day (either in person or on the phone if you are not physically in the same place). Also, make sure to communicate ambitiously. Employees have a need to know what is going on in the workplace, be sure to share any information you have been given by senior management and other relevant information that your employees need to get their job done. Communicate more than you think is necessary; there is no such thing as over-communication.

Part of “seeing your employees” is getting to know them. This means showing interest beyond work-related things – ask them about their families, hobbies and interests and make sure you listen attentively when they answer. We all have different factors that motivate us. Ask your employees what motivates them.

3. Set effective goals

Effective goals are a key contributor to increased motivation. You should expect great (realistic) results from your employees. If they feel you believe in them and expect them to deliver great results they will! You can read more about goal setting in my blog article posted June 4th, 2012, called “How to set more effective goals”.

4. Give regular feedback

One of the most important tools a manager has is giving regular feedback. You should give feedback on the positive behavior you want to see continued, as well as corrective feedback on the behavior you want to see changed. You can read more on giving feedback in my blog article published March 5th, 2012, called “How to give effective feedback.” Most employees feel their managers don’t give them enough feedback.

5. Recognize and reward results

The final advice on motivating your employees is to recognize and reward good results. In many cases, a sincere “thank you” is all it takes to keep an employee motivated. You can also recognize achievements by giving a reward, it really doesn’t matter what the reward is as long as it’s a good fit. You need to know your employee in order to know what they would appreciate. For instance, don’t give a bottle of wine to a non-drinker or a dinner for two to someone who just broke up with their partner. One of your employees might be thrilled about tickets to a football game while another would be bored out of their mind.

Here are a few examples of simple rewards that might be a good fit for your employees:

  • A hand-written thank you note
  • Applauds at a team meeting
  • Flowers
  • A dinner for two
  • Tickets to an event (sporting event, theatre, etc.)
  • A course or seminar (why not an annual membership to

Don’t overcomplicate things

When it comes to motivating employees I think a lot of managers get too fixated on salary increases and bonuses, things that are often difficult for them to accomplish single-handedly. They forget about the simple, symbolic gestures they can do on a daily basis to motivate their employees. I often think about my two-year-old son, who beams like the sun when we praise and applaud him for things he has successfully accomplished– whether it is finishing his food, brushing his teeth or picking up his toys. People, no matter what age, thrive in an environment where their accomplishments are recognized and celebrated.

(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here)