Insights & Ideas

10 unique (and easy) ways to motivate employees

For leaders, motivating your people is one of your most important jobs.

If you’re a team leader looking for fresh ways to motivate your team, this is your lucky day. This article will, indeed, provide some out-of-the-ordinary ways to inspire your people. But first, we’ll review some basics about motivating employees to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

Let’s quickly review “Workplace Motivation 101.”

Compensation isn’t enough

In the old days, people thought motivating a team was about compensation and perks. But several studies and theories1 show that more money doesn’t necessarily mean more motivation. Compensation is important, but it’s a necessity instead of a nicety. In a famous study from 1959, Frederick Herzberg introduced his “two-factor theory of motivation.” He said leaders need to provide both:

  • Hygiene factors (a.k.a. table stakes). If you don’t have things like fair compensation, effective company policies, and good relationships with your managers, people will have a lack of motivation.
  • Motivator factors. To get your people truly amped up about their jobs, you need to provide things like purposeful work, autonomy, recognition, career progression, and a sense of belonging.

Motivation musts

When you become a leader, you become the “chief motivator” for your team. There are several foundational actions you can take to get (and keep) your team motivated. For example, it’s important to:

  • Provide purpose. Connect each team member’s work to your company’s purpose—showing them how their contributions make a difference. Purpose, combined with vision, can help employees feel optimistic about the future
  • Empower employees. Give your team members decision-making power and trust them to do the work they were hired to do.
  • Recognize employees regularly. Ongoing, regular feedback and recognition are key to motivation. Don’t wait until annual reviews or 1:1s—make recognition a daily habit. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition, too.
  • Make work meaningful. To make work rewarding for employees, you need to get to know each employee and their goals. Inspire them with employment development plans that interest them and help them grow.
  • Create community. Take time to ensure your people feel like they belong and they’re an important part of the team. That means going out of your way to create connections between team members, even if your team works remotely.

10 ways to take employee motivation to the next level

OK, now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Check out these 10 unique (and mostly easy) ways to invigorate and inspire your workforce.

  1. Send weekly good news emails. Each week or month, send emails that tell people about good things that have happened recently—such as recognizing employees, providing feedback from customers/clients, or celebrating wins (big and small).
  2. Manage energy, not time. Working long hours without breaks leads to burnout. Encourage people to 5-10-minute breaks—away from their desks, computers, or other screens—every 90-120 minutes. This helps people get re-energized and do better work. Similarly, after a big deadline or stressful event, surprise employees with time off to rest and recharge.
  3. Reward effort (not just performance). Some people, like receptionists, are in roles that don’t show up in the sales reports, but the company would grind to a halt without them. Similarly, a salesperson assigned to Georgia might have fewer clients than the salesperson in New York, but he works twice as hard to get them. Recognizing effort motivates people in all positions to do their best work.
  4. Hold culture confabs. A few times a year, gather your team and take a deep dive into what your culture stands for. Let employees share ideas about how they perceive the culture and ways it could be improved—and put some into action. It’s motivating to help build a culture instead of being constrained by one.
  5. Encourage work friendships. Studies show that people who have a good friend on the team are more likely to be satisfied and motivated at work. So, make sure to put your team in situations where friendships can bloom—from collaborating on a strategic task force to enjoying fun “team building” events together.
  6. Match rewards to the situation. Sure, it’s nice to get a shout-out or a plaque at an all-team meeting, but it can be even more motivating if a reward is personalized to the person or situation. If someone went above and beyond, surprise them with a superhero cape. Give an amateur baker a day off to attend a baking class. Send a limo to take someone to their favorite restaurant for lunch. Personalized rewards are more memorable and inspiring.
  7. Create team nicknames. If a team is feeling underappreciated or just stuck in a rut, help them take pride in their work by giving themselves a fun nickname that demonstrates the impact they make. For example, in one well-known example, hotel housekeepers came up with names like “The Clutter Busters” or “The Serenity Sisters.”2
  8. Go wild. It’s well known that being in nature is inspiring and beneficial. So, why not have meetings outside in good weather? Let people take their laptops to the park for a few hours to get some Vitamin D. Or let a little of the wild into the office by allowing visits from pets or service dogs.
  9. Make workspaces inspiring. Whether they’re in the office or at a remote location, allow people to show their personal flair in their workspace. It helps people enjoy their offices more, get to know each other, and feel connected.
  10. Ask your team what they need. Sometimes motivation is as easy as asking employees what they need to succeed. It shows you care about their ideas and are willing to act on them.

Want to learn more about motivating people?

Read Salo’s “Guide to to People-First Workplaces” to learn more about key factors that motivate your workforce. Or connect with us to learn more about how our senior-level HR consultants can help your organization get motivated.

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