Techniques to Keep Employees Motivated


Every company faces the challenge of how to motivate employees to perform at their full potential. This challenge seems even more daunting for small businesses that are operating on leaner budgets. Let me share with you some motivational concepts that are being taught in business schools across the country that won’t break the bank (which is more than many of us who paid for those business degrees can say).

Invest your employees with a sense of ownership in your business and they will be naturally motivated to perform.

How do you give your employees a sense of ownership in your business? Be transparent and share information. When you were growing up, did you ever ask your parents, “But why?” only to have them answer you with “Because I said so”? When a manager withholds information from employees, it sends the message to the employees that they aren’t important enough to give an explanation to. Sharing information with your employees is a way to show them you respect and value them as contributing members of your team.

Communicating with your employees things such as current challenges facing your business, successes and the rationale behind changes you make to company policies, for example, will result in employees that:

  • Have a better understanding of your business and can make more informed decisions.
  • Feel like part of a team rather than someone who just punches in and punches out every day which will provide them with motivation to perform well at no cost to you.
  • Are happier at work because they feel valued which will save you money by reducing your staff turnover and also likely improve your client retention rates because happier employees generally provide better customer service.

Here at HiringThing, our founder Josh Siler has fostered a strong sense of open communication with the entire staff by holding quarterly “all hands” team meetings where he encourages participation in short- and long-term corporate planning and goal setting as well as discussion of challenges we are facing and how to overcome them. Josh also sends out a monthly internal newsletter detailing our successes and sharing information on how our performance compares to our established goals.

Give your employees the gifts of trust and responsibility.

Theorist Frederick Herzberg determined that the main motivators for people are feelings of having done a good job, being appreciated, trust, responsibility and specific rewards. Hydraulic valve manufacturer Sun Hydraulics has blazed a new trail in the world of HR by throwing out the entire concept of organizational hierarchy and trusting its employees to make their own decisions on how best to contribute to the organization’s success. Elimination of vertical hierarchy has resulted in a flat, horizontal structure that does away with the traditional “parent-child” relationship of manager to employee and replaces it with a more equal “adult-adult” relationship. The only title anyone in the company has is the honorary title of Plant Manager which, contrary to what you would think of a hydraulics manufacturer, has nothing to do with management and everything to do with being responsible for watering the hundreds of live plants that hang from the eco-friendly manufacturing facility ceilings. For more information on Sun Hydraulics, check out this case study .

Maybe you aren’t ready to abolish titles yet. You can still achieve a sense of trust and responsibility by clearly communicating with your employees what their responsibilities are and letting them use the skill set you hired them for to accomplish their goals. Make sure they have the tools at their disposal to get their jobs done and leave them to it. After all, that’s what you’ve hired them to do.

Shipping magnate FedEx puts the responsibility of determining the best and most efficient driving route in the hands of its drivers. There’s no dispatcher sitting in a corporate office somewhere sending out route guidance. It’s up to the individual driver to figure it out for themselves. And let’s ask the question of who knows the best routes and is more likely to be motivated to find efficiencies: a driver who spends 8 hours a day driving the routes and has a family to get home to at night or a dispatcher who sits in an office all day staring at a computer screen and knows she/he can clock out at 5pm regardless of current traffic conditions? FedEx also makes sure drivers have the tools they need readily available. For example, in wintertime, even those shorts-wearing polar bear types sometimes get cold hands so FedEx provides drivers with gloves as part of their uniforms. In this way, FedEx is putting into practice the theories of Herzberg and others in a way that empowers their employees to do their jobs well, feel good about doing well and ultimately creates a higher level efficiency within the business that can end up saving that business significant money.

Praise early, praise often and make it relevant.

Herzberg and Elton Mayo , another theorist and founder of the Human Relations movement, both agree that positive attention from management is a significant motivator for employees. Giving employees praise is a great way to motivate at no cost to an organization and studies have shown that some people are more motivated by praise and recognition than by money.

However, meaningless praise is actually worse than not being praised at all. For example, Susy works all kinds of extra hours this month in order to release a new version of her company’s software product by the deadline and, after the release when Susy’s eyes are still bloodshot from too much coffee and not enough sleep, her boss stops by her desk and tells her she did a great job on choosing the color scheme for the new user interface. That makes Susy want to pull her hair out and then start updating her resume.

The key to delivering meaningful praise is to praise early, praise often and make it relevant. Using the example of Susy and the software release, it is much more meaningful to Susy if her boss takes the time within a day or two after the release to sincerely thank her for all the extra work she put into making the release happen and praises the quality of the release than if she/he waits a few weeks or months to deliver that same praise. The hard work Susy put in is still very fresh in her mind and timely thanks and praise deliver maximum positive impact when they occur soon after her accomplishment.

Praise isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. I have a friend whose boss praises him so infrequently that he actually couldn’t remember the last time it had happened when I asked him point blank. If this boss sounds like you, try set a recurring calendar reminder to praise your employees at least once a month to serve as a reminder that you should be on the lookout for praiseworthy performance. Don’t let this become too much of a predictable pattern, however, because that crosses the line of meaningless praise.

Communicating on a regular basis to your employees that they are doing a good job gives them a strong sense of satisfaction with their own work, improves their self-confidence and goes a long way to making them feel happy at work. Happy employees make for productive employees. This means better efficiency for your business.

Compensation and workplace environment are still important to an employee’s job satisfaction and cannot be ignored.

You can share information, give meaningful praise and imbue your employees with a high level of trust and responsibility but if you don’t offer adequate compensation and provide a safe, comfortable working environment, you will still end up with dissatisfied employees. If you have an employee who is forced to work in a space that is so cramped his knees keep bumping up against his filing cabinet, he’s probably not going to respond very well to being given a greater degree of responsibility until you have resolved his workspace discomfort. Laugh all you want, but I actually know someone whose knees developed permanent bruises for the first 3 months of his employment because his boss kept delaying the purchase of a new, more ergonomically friendly desk setup.

So keep in mind that the non-financial motivational tools shared in this post are not stand alone solutions. They will only be effective when you are also able to satisfy an employee’s more basic needs of financial and personal security.


Author: HiringThing

HiringThing is easy to use, intuitive online recruiting software that makes it easy to post jobs online, manage applicants and hire great employees.