10 Tips for Motivating Employees



Almost all employees want to do interesting work, secure a good salary and earn recognition for their contributions. But motivating employees takes more than money and an occasional “thank-you.” It requires a strategy tailored to each worker’s needs. 

In HR, you work with your company’s managers to get the most out of your employees. Here are 10 ways to make your motivational techniques work for every employee.

1. Ask what they want out of work. Just knowing that an HR manager or boss is interested in a worker's goals will make many employees feel better about their jobs. It can be difficult to get a quick and accurate answer to this question, however. Some workers may say that they want to work on a prestigious project, for example, only to discover once they have been assigned to the project that it isn’t what they expected.

It may help to ask a more specific question. Have workers describe a previous project that they felt good about, then see what aspects of that can be repeated, suggested Michael Beasley, a career-development and executive coach who owns Career-Crossings in Portola Valley, Calif

2. Consider each employee’s age and life stage. There are exceptions to every generalization, of course, but workers nearing the end of their careers are often less focused on the next promotion than those who are just starting to climb the corporate ladder. Younger workers may also be less accustomed than older ones to waiting patiently in a job they don’t find interesting.

3. Match motivators to the company or department culture. Again, there are exceptions, but engineers are likely to be motivated by working on cutting-edge projects. On the other hand, sales professionals tend to use money as a way to measure how well they’re doing.

4. Pinpoint each employee’s personality. Some people love public praise; others are mortified by it and would much prefer a sincere, in-person “thank-you.” Make sure you take this into account if you are planning a ceremony to give awards or other recognition.

5. Use flexibility wisely. Allowing employees to telecommute some of the time or to set their own office hours can have big benefits. It makes employees’ lives more manageable — and it shows them that they are trusted.

Still, as with other motivators, one size does not fit all. Some jobs simply can’t be done effectively outside the office. And some workers actually like going in to the office to escape the distractions of home or to preserve a line between home and work. “As long as the commute is not bad, some people would rather go in to work,” said Marianne Adoradio, a Silicon Valley recruiter and career counselor.

6. Put money in its place. How well does money motivate workers? The answer isn’t simple. An employee who demands a raise might really be unhappy because his or her suggestions are being ignored, for example. And surveys and experts offer different answers about how important money is, depending on how the question is phrased.

Dee DiPietro, founder and CEO of Advanced-HR Inc., described money as “a baseline”: too little of it can make workers feel unappreciated and resentful. “You don’t want compensation working against you as a motivator,” she said. “People just don’t want to feel like their employer is taking advantage of them.” However, motivation to work hard rarely comes solely from money. If your employees are being paid fair salaries and still seem unwilling to go the extra mile, throwing more money at them is unlikely to be the answer.

7. Don’t rely on stock options. If money is an unreliable motivator, stock options are even less likely to motivate most workers. Employee worth goes up and down with a company’s stock price — something very few workers feel they can control.

DiPietro considers options “more of a retention tool” because they vest over several years. But she said that most employees simply lump them together with their salary when they consider how much they’re being paid for their work. “People tend to look at the whole cash package,” she said.

8. Offer help with career goals. When you ask workers what kind of work they enjoy, also find out about what they’re hoping to do in the future. Giving workers opportunities to build the skills and make the connections they need to get ahead in their careers will build loyalty and motivation.

9. Help employees learn. It’s very important for workers to keep learning new skills on the job. With people changing jobs more often than they used to and companies no longer promising long-term employment, younger workers in particular realize that continuing to learn is the way to stay employable, said Leslie G. Griffen, managing partner of Career Management Associates, in Overland Park, Kan.

“Kids today are really under pressure to keep adding knowledge,” Griffen said. “I think learning is huge: the ability to gather new knowledge on the job.”

Organized classes and seminars are one way to help with this, as are tuition-reimbursement programs. But in many cases, it’s a matter of listening to what skills a worker is interested in acquiring, then giving the person a chance to work on a project that will develop those skills.  

10. Recognize that motivation isn’t always the answer. If your motivation efforts aren’t working, it may not be your fault. “Not everyone can be motivated for that particular job,” Beasley said. If an employee would really rather be doing something else, it may be best to encourage him or her to pursue something new. 

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