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How to motivate your employees

  1. How to Motivate your Employees
  2. The workplace is an unnatural environment. There’s little getting around that fact. Without becoming philosophical about it all, our brains did not develop for an office. Our brains love short-term rewards, like catching that rabbit. They thrive on pride and tangible progress. The chemicals flow for security, comfort and control. Humans developed through teamwork, and this rewarding culture persists.
  3. Basically, despite our technological and societal progress, the brains which move your employees haven’t changed in about 200,000 years. So the challenge then is to satisfy these innate triggers in a working environment. This isn’t about ‘tricking’ the brain or blowing a whistle at a certain pitch. These behaviours are everyday occurrences, general common sense – but they can easily be lost in the operation of a business.
  4. Show their work is important The first and most vital step is to help your employees see the importance of their work. This plays to their pride and satisfies their desire to be part of a team. Of course, the challenge to this depends on the scale of the company and the role the employee fills. The business will serve a purpose besides profit, and it’s important that employees know that. It is easy for an employee to forget that the business actually holds societal value if they spend time around money, or away from the primary service.
  5. Show their work is important The core part of this message is to remind them that their work has a purpose. Many jobs are boring and even the ones that aren’t can leave the person feeling lost for reason to do it. The brain, naturally, shirks boring things. It likes to do things it considers interesting, important and that are a source of pride. You can motivate your employee by playing to these and providing them with a purpose. For example, you could find that your Stock Control workers in your supermarket are doing a poor job because it involves counting the number of potatoes in a basket and this week they just cannot find the motivation to get the figures exact.
  6. Show their work is important The job is mundane and there is little getting around this, so you have to present the bigger picture. The figures will get turned into a report; stock control is about knowing how much produce you have in store at any time. This report – produced directly from the information the employee provides – will help inform how much waste the supermarket is producing, and by extension how they can reduce their carbon footprint.
  7. Show their work is important The report will be used to track levels of shoplifting, and help towards reducing crime. The report will also be used to determine levels of profitability. Showing the end result of these figures to the employee may provide them with the motivation to do it well if they can see that the accuracy is relied upon for a number of reasons.
  8. Imagine the company without them This is a really effective way of triggering the innate desire to belong to a team. Help them see the bigger process by showing them the hole they could leave. The day-to-day work may naturally be boring, but if you can present them with the bigger picture, it becomes a part of a chain of work that results in the great final result. If an employee is working without knowing why, without knowing where their work fits in with the company goals, they will stop working very soon. Humans are not drones. We need to see results – remember, humans want to see progress – to be satisfied. Show how punching those numbers enables the next team to deliver, or how waiting a happy table makes the work a lot easier for everyone else.
  9. Maintain the working environment Really, this should go without too much saying, but the environment your employees are in should be clean. The atmosphere should be friendly and where appropriate, fun. Humans are fantastic at adapting the environment around them. Our imagination is key to our success, and your employees need to be able to use their own to influence their immediate environment. This does not have to be a redecorating; indeed, if you work at McDonald’s, there’s no scope for changing that at all. But these changes can be as simple as satisfying their desire for a cleaner area, or for working with people they like working with. So long as they are allowed to influence the environment, they will continue to be motivated to work within it. This is about satisfying the human need for control.
  10. Maintain the working environment That doesn’t mean they want to climb the ladder and become team leader. This control can be satisfied with the minimal of impact on anyone else. So long as they can have a meaningful say and don’t feel like this will be taken away, their relationship with their environment will be fine. The environment is more than the walls; it’s clothes, it’s food, it’s all of the equipment. If there is room for flexibility, then there is plenty of opportunity to allow your staff to play with these, yet keep them professional.
  11. Let them make decisions As with the last point, decision making is crucial to satisfying that Human need for control. Extend these decisions past the environment into the business and you will have a surprisingly motivated team. Giving them a say in the changes – or even just letting them know at the earliest opportunity – lets your staff feel valued. Getting them involved in the process is far better than just letting them know the process is happening. There is very little reason to exclude staff from decision making that affects their job; the decision maker remains solely in charge even if there are more voices in the discussion. As with much in life, the best decisions for people are the ones made by them, rather than for them.
  12. Let them make decisions That said, it isn’t the end of the world if they have voiced their opinion and nothing has come of it. Simply that they were heard and had the opportunity to offer that control should make them feel valued. That said, it is more valuable to give feedback even if the idea hasn’t been adopted; it is important to show that you considered it as much as you heard it. Quite often, a business will stifle its growth because it doesn’t innovate; because its ideas are old. Asking employees for their improvements should be an intrinsic pillar of how the business grows. Employees know their part of the business best, and will collectively improve the day-to-day smoothness if allowed to do so.
  13. Allow development The workplace is naturally a place of experience and learning. This is why work experience is just as valuable, if not more so, than education to someone hiring. Without these feelings of development, it will not be long before staff feel like they are part of an organisation that doesn’t care about them, or that doesn’t want them to go further. Nearly all employees will be aiming higher than their current position, as this is a naturally human thing to do. Don’t ignore this, and certainly don’t suppress it even if it goes against your wishes as an employer to have a stable workforce. It will be far more unstable if the staff feel restricted and their ambitions suppressed because they will soon leave.
  14. Allow development To appeal to the human want for progress, we should be looking to constantly educate and develop our staff. Implement a formal procedure whereby personal targets are met, and ensure that employees can add their own goals to this list. A tangible list helps these achievements become realities and can remind an employee of everything the business has helped them to achieve since they joined. Their motivation to work and add value for you will increase as an appreciation for the value you’ve given to them.
  15. Ensure everyone has the tools they need When the work builds up, it can be easy for the harder jobs to get neglected. They may be hard for a number of reasons, but inexcusably it could be that the employee simply doesn’t have the tools to do it. This could be knowledge or something more physical; it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the staff have everything they need to complete the task. This is a common sense tip, but it’s easily neglected when your role as a boss doesn’t coincide with theirs so your day-to- day experiences differ. It could be as simple as ensuring everyone has a stapler, or maybe something that requires training, like proper phone etiquette.
  16. Ensure everyone has the tools they need If it is training, this can contribute to their personal development and their sense of progress. If it’s just a stapler, this is still quite important – ignoring this displays a disregard for the importance of the job. Their value of the job role can quickly plummet if their toolbox is neglected.
  17. Find out what they want to do A great way of motivating an employee is giving them a task they have specifically asked to do. The pressure will be on them to perform, and there will be the added bonus that the end result is likely to be their best. Another way of encouraging this without directly handing them a task is asking them what part of the business, or the business direction, excites them the most. If they thought the relationship with another business was key and something they were interested in finding out more about, assign them a task that gets them involved there. This kind of flexibility ticks so many motivator boxes; primarily it gives them control but it also aligns with their feeling of being in a team and of making progress in their job.
  18. Find out what they want to do It doesn’t have to be a task they want to do. It could be that they want to finish a bit earlier so they can pick up their child from school to save on childcare costs and spend more time with them, or that they want to cycle to work and need support with somewhere to lock their bike. These requests can’t always be met, but so long as they are heard and clearly considered, the employee will appreciate the chance they’ve had to ask. Taking an interest in their work-life balance acknowledges that you value their own priorities as well as the business’s.
  19. Communicate both positive and negative feedback Praise or otherwise, it is important to communicate with your staff to let them know how you feel their work is going. Make sure this is communicated from your perspective – don’t assume theirs. This also has the added benefit of showing that you are paying attention – this subtly communicates that you value their time. Praise is, of course, preferred, and the desire for more – relating to the value they feel they represent – is important to their motivation. Try and praise publically (without embarrassing or patronising them). This has the additional effect of motivating others to seek the same praise.
  20. Communicate both positive and negative feedback If the feedback is negative, say it constructively and offer a reasonable solution. If the solution is essentially the problem, think creatively and allow some flexibility. Show that you understand the issue, or at least that you understand that we all have difficulties and need to find ways around them. This communication is essential not only for the motivation of an individual to continue progressing, but also for the structure of the business as a whole – if these negatives are left without being said for fear or tension or rebuttal, the business will inevitably be worse off for it.
  21. Communicate both positive and negative feedback For example, one of your employees could consistently be completing a task a day after it was due. The problem could be that the deadline coincides with too much of their other work, most of which cannot be done in advance. The solution is not simply to ask them to finish on time – if it was that simple, it probably wouldn’t have become an issue. The amount of work needs to be creatively managed, and perhaps another employee brought in to help on the very busy days. This negative feedback becomes positive – it helps address an issue that’s hurting the business and relieves the unfair stress from the employee. The employee will also now trust that you can approach their issues fairly and will be more motivated to work for you as a result.
  22. Give them financial incentive Jobs based on commission are certainly not for everyone, but they do exist. The natural desire for short-term reward, in this context being a commissioned sale, constantly motivates people to perform. Most business models will not work on pure commission sales alone, but many businesses can benefit from financially rewarding their staff when they perform well. This rewards process needs to be carefully implemented for fairness. There is bitterness amongst many people for the bonuses of high-end workers, which do not seem to match up with the efforts and rewards of others. Financial incentives can thus demotivate if done unfairly. There is less reason for a worker to try selling their extras when they know the team leader, who does no selling, is rewarded for his efforts. If rewards are to be team-based, they need to reflect the efforts of each individual member.
  23. Give them financial incentive For example, if you are currently rewarding a team of salespeople when all members hit a threshold, you should remember that it is important to reward those who compete within the team, and not punish them when other members miss out. This kind of negative punishment harms team relationships and creates an unpleasant motivation. The worst salesperson could end up denying the whole team of reward; instead, reward each member as they hit the threshold and then reward the whole team slightly more if every member has hit the threshold. The financial rewards can stay the same, but we have shifted the motivation from negative to positive.
  24. Yes – even at minimum wage To wrap up, building employee motivation is a complex task. There are many factors at work. Businesses with a high employee turnover may have to look at their pay packages, or it may simply be that their employees are not motivated to work because they feel undervalued. It can be difficult when you know as the employer that their job isn’t actually that important; or that if it is, that they are easily replaced. Minimum wage jobs will suffer greatly from this employee – and employer – apathy, but the long-term success of the business truly relies on the performance of its staff.
  25. Yes – even at minimum wage As an example, McDonald’s has done a fantastic job of turning around its reputation as the droll-end of the school dropout market. It is now an employer that encourages staff progression within the business and outside of it through education schemes, it allows staff flexibility with shifts, and flexibility with which McDonald’s you can work at (though McDonald’s is perhaps one of the few businesses in the world which can effectively put this into practice). These employee-focused policies reflect the appreciative nature of the business towards its staff, and the end result is motivation to work hard for that business.
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