I have to admit that I have always been pretty much a self-motivating employee. I guess it’s in my DNA to want to get the job done in the best way possible for the greatest results. So, in my mind I was always a great employee. Some of my past employer’s may have a different take!

Be BetterHowever, I’ve had my own business for more than 20 years now and have gone through my share of employees. And being a self-starter, possibly overachiever personality does make it difficult for me to understand what motivates employees. I am not a micro-manager and don’t think that praise is deserved for just doing the job, but I know times and people have changed and I am more and more asked to help my clients with ways to motivate employees.

Our newest employees, the millennials, have a different mindset. I had one such employee for about 18 months (which is another aspect for a different article – they are not ones to stay for long periods of time at one company. If you get two years you are doing well!). My learning curve with her was a long one because I didn’t realize that one of the motivating factors for her was praising her for a job well done on her daily work.

60% of Employees are NOT Engaged

And it is a problem. A survey of employees in 2014 by Gallup found that 31.5% of US employees were in engaged in 2014. That means that almost 60% are NOT engaged. And the survey found that 17.5% were “actively disengaged” in 2014. It also found that the millennials generation was the least engaged group at 28.9% compared to the baby boomers generation that is engaged above the average at 32.7%. If they are not engaged then they are not as productive and will be out the door for another opportunity.

So how do you motivate employees?

I’ve never been a big fan of money as a motivator. At least not as a true motivator of changing an employee’s behavior for the long term. Granted some people are highly motivated by money when it’s attached to their compensation plan and many companies use the programs, but it is just a different form of compensation.

As a matter of fact, a friend of mine plans her house renovations and vacations every year based on her bonus. But when I asked if it motivated her to work harder, she said

Is money really motivating employees?

Is money really motivating employees?

no. It’s a company-wide goals based bonus plan so while they all work together to meet goals she feels they all see it as compensation. If it went away she’d be devastated (she actually just quit her job, stayed to get her 2015 bonus but didn’t see the 2016 bonus as worthy enough to stay). Not really the definition of a stellar employee motivation idea to me.

And that’s the issue with monetary “motivators” – they can also be de-motivating if you have to change or cancel the program, employees feel they are being penalized because their overall compensation is being reduced. It’s the same for even smaller monetary rewards – they pay the electric bill and forget they ever got it!

And not surprising, not only generationally, but individually we are all motivated by different things. Some it could be the chance to take some extra time off (in addition to the vacation time) another may want to go back to school for an advanced degree, others want an annual sales trip to an exotic destination. I have a cousin in sales that has the opportunity to qualify for several trips each year – if it’s someplace great – his wife is the motivator!!

Tips to motivating employees:

  1. Acknowledging a job well done

Yes, I think we all like that “pat” on the back and acknowledgement of a job well done – or a great save or new initiative. It is especially great when the acknowledgement is given in front of peers – it can be the monthly meeting or an annual gala, but don’t forget to thank your employees for all that they do (how many offices do you go in that has a plaque proudly displayed as “employee of the month”? 

  1. Listening to their needs

As I mentioned above, to really motivate your employees you need to understand what they want and why. In smaller companies you can tailor more specifically than you might be able to in larger companies but it’s definitely worth a try.

  1. Have an interest in their work/life balance

I hear this complaint all the time among my friends and colleagues – how to achieve any sense of work/life balance. Even with the economy improving companies are still lean and mean so the daily work to do’s is always long so we all put in extra hours. For me, I understand my employees really do want their life balance so I genuinely encourage my employees to leave on time. And it motivates them to be very productive during the day!

  1. Are they interested in personal or professional growth?

Again, it’s a part of listening but many are very motivated to learn more. Maybe it’s setting up a mentoring program within your company – could be top-down or cross functional.. Or it could be offering regular learning workshops (one manager has a guest speaker at their manager’s meeting on a monthly basis) or encouraging an outside class or degree (many larger companies reimburse for an advanced degree).

  1. Competition can be motivational

I admit it, I’m a competitive person. I don’t necessarily always have to win (truly I don’t) but I don’t like to lose either. I want to be near the top of the leader board. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a person to person competition – it could be departmental or functional. For many companies safety is paramount and having a board counting the days without incident in various parts of the building can be motivating.

  1. Team experiences can be very motivating

    Team experiences can be very motivating

    Teamwork like competition can motivate employees

I don’t think anyone likes to be seen as the “lame duck” in a group project.  And if the teams are also in competition with other teams – you could have double the motivation. Or take teamwork in a different direction and take your teams out for a day of running obstacle courses or volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and build a house together, the opportunities are endless. W you are a team you tend to be more engaged, more likely not to let your fellow teammates down.

  1. Free stuff can be motivating

I say this all the time. People like free stuff. We have many programs that reward employees for various achievements. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a big item but it needs to be something that the employee may want, need or use (or all three). These programs can be set up so that varying degrees of behavior are rewarded differently or all the same.

We are all working towards a common goal – success. And success like motivation varies by the individual. So if your employees want to start a volunteer program and that will keep them more engaged and motivated- then why not?

As you can see, it’s not always about rewarding individual achievement that motivates. Having a successful motivation plan begins with a candid conversation with your employees to determine what would really motivate them. And then building a program that can be consistent and flexible so more are motivated to achieve the goals you all set in place to succeed.

Danette Gossett

Danette brings more than 30 years of experience developing advertising campaigns, direct marketing programs and sales promotions to her clients. Prior to starting her companies, she worked for New York advertising agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi & Lowe Marschalk.

Her corporate marketing experience included National Advertising Director for Avis Rent a Car Systems, Inc., and Director of Marketing Services for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Read More

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