How to Motivate Employees: 5 Tips

Manager sitting at a table and motivating employees with animated hand gestures.

Motivated employees invest their time, effort, and focus on their work. They’re more innovative, more engaged in their employers’ goals, and less likely to seek employment elsewhere. Fair compensation and attractive benefits are effective lures for top talent, but how do you keep employees motivated once they’re on board?

Research indicates that “symbolic rewards” can be effective incentives, especially in fields like education and healthcare. Frequent and public reminders of how your workforce is contributing to the public good keeps these civic-minded employees engaged.

But not all employees are motivated the same way. Private sector employees tend to place a higher priority on monetary rewards; however, values-driven motivation can be effective in for-profit workplaces. Using a mix of motivators—high cost, low cost, and symbolic—is the best strategy for keeping top performers engaged and contributing their top efforts on your behalf.

The research on how to motivate employees is changing rapidly to keep pace with a fast-changing employment landscape. Automation, remote work, hybrid teams, and an increased emphasis on corporate responsibility in the form of sustainability and diversity initiatives mean that employers and managers need to employ a wide array of strategies to motivate employees.

The five value-driven tips below provide an easily adaptable strategy to motivate your employees, decrease turnover, and increase profits.

1. Create Short-term Employee Goals, and Rewards to Match

Borrow a principle from Agile Methodology, and break large projects into smaller units that allow employees to feel a sense of accomplishment as they meet each incremental goal. Aim to create weekly, rather than quarterly or annual goals. Schedule frequent check-ins with direct reports to see what resources they need to accomplish that week’s goals.

Once you’ve tasked a team with a goal, resist the urge to micro-manage. Instead, empower teams to organize themselves and set their own timetables and strategies.

Whenever goals are met successfully, announce employee or team accomplishments companywide. Take an employee or team for a special lunch to celebrate, or allocate small, unscheduled bonuses for surpassing expectations on key tasks. These creative, individualized approaches to employee motivation can be especially useful during times of slow growth when the budget for perks tightens, but the urgency to retain your top performers becomes vital.

2. How to Motivate Employees: Grant Them Autonomy

By asserting less direct control over how your employees and teams complete tasks and solve problems, you communicate your trust in their professional judgment. Your most valuable employees are not likely to stay motivated for long by rote tasks or rigid hierarchies where their ideas and creativity are stifled. Instead, let them know they are respected by allowing them to be part of decision-making and seeking their input.

One way to emphasize that everyone’s input is valued is by giving every team member—even the most junior—the chance to create an agenda and run a meeting. Another is to give a small but important individual task or project, such as a research report on a topic of value to your organizational goals, to each staff member, allowing them to become the “internal expert” on a given topic.

3. Use Rewards and Recognition to Make Staff Feel Valued

There are two main ways to make your employees feel valued:

  • Tangible rewards, including salary, perks, and bonuses
  • Symbolic rewards like praise and recognition

No employee feels valued if they are not being paid the fair market value for their labor. You can determine if your employees’ salaries are on target with a salary tool that provides salary ranges by occupation and location. Fair compensation includes transparency on issues like diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), especially when it comes to salary, benefits, bonuses, and promotion.

Symbolic rewards include recognition of accomplishments and extra effort. But best practices for how to motivate employees go beyond mere praise. Tempering positive feedback with constructive criticism can make employees feel seen. This approach to mentoring shows that you are invested in your employees’ long-term career development, especially when accompanied by monetary investments such as training and tuition reimbursement.

4. Provide Your Employees With Options and Flexibility

Employees are increasingly dubious about working for employers who expect them to prioritize their jobs above all else. They’re looking for employers who respect the boundaries between work and personal time. It may seem counter-intuitive, but your employees’ efficiency will increase if you make clear that you respect their right to give you a reasonable amount of time and no more.

Learn how to motivate employees by offering, but not requiring, remote work or flexible hours, providing paid or unpaid sabbaticals, or offering tuition reimbursement for any course of study, not only courses that seem most relevant to their current role. These policies convey faith in each employee’s long-term value as an individual with a wide array of strengths and interests. Employees who know their employers are investing in them over the long haul are more likely to remain motivated and committed.

5. Create a Sense of Shared Purpose in Your Workplace

One of the best ways to motivate employees is to engage them in your company’s goals, mission, and culture. At mission-driven organizations, core goals—such as patient care, finding cures for illnesses, or developing solutions to problems—are often central tools in employee recruitment and motivation.

But any workplace can incorporate value-driven principals, such as community outreach, sustainability, transparency, work-life balance, and DEI, into its core mission. From there, strategizing how to motivate employees becomes a matter of making sure your employees are given opportunities to engage in those aspects of your mission in meaningful ways, such as paid time to volunteer.

Being transparent about earnings, successes, and failures helps to create a culture of trust within your workforce. Don’t claim you’re losing money as an excuse to suspend raises if your bottom line is doing fine, for example. Where there is trust and shared interest, you will find motivated employees.

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