Motivation is perhaps the one staple feature of every successful workforce. It’s what gets the best out of your employees, enables productivity, boosts morale and keeps your most skilled with you. But it’s also one of the hardest to maintain and requires ongoing effort. While no single approach to motivation works consistently, applying the following can help every company improve employee motivation and performance for the long-term.
Create a positive work environment
The state of your workplace really matters, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made managing this more complex. The rise of remote working has raised the profile of a virtual environment that is diverse and highly personal, while nascent hybrid work models are challenging the function and structure of shared physical workplaces. Navigating this is extremely difficult, so it's important to recognize that you probably won't get it right immediately—and that's ok. You just need to include employees on your journey.
Beyond rethinking physical office space to include space for both collaborative work and deep work, make it a priority to support employees in setting up positive home working environments—that includes both the work from home setup as well as enabling your staff to create healthy remote work routines. If you're introducing hybrid work, involve employees in designing it and create channels for honest feedback. Think hard about company attitudes, processes, employee protections and benefits—ping pong tables and Friday beers don't cut it in our new way of working.
Remote-first culture increasingly pushes asynchronous ways of working, but don’t fall into an email or Slack culture. Set aside time to actually talk to your employees face-to-face (whether that's actually in person or via video calls). Let them know you see them as a person: encourage them to share their thoughts and impressions, check in to see how they’re doing and ask how you can support them better.
Of course, good communication goes both ways, and employees increasingly expect to be involved in actively shaping company decisions and culture. Create as many opportunities and spaces to allow everyone on your team to connect in the way they feel most comfortable. That starts with fostering a feedback culture—encouraging everyone to honestly speak their mind without fear of judgement. Building psychological safety in a hybrid workplace is no mean feat, but it's something your company needs to keep prioritizing and working at.
Recognize good performance
Rewarding the behaviors you want to see among your workforce reinforces your company’s goals and boosts engagement. Employees are proud to see how their individual efforts impact the organization, and this strengthens the notion that their contribution is valued.
If you feel you need to make a physical statement of appreciation, consider a recognition program, where employees can choose from a variety of rewards. Just bear in mind that rewarding good performance doesn’t just mean giving gifts (and reward programs necessarily make you pick one person’s efforts over another’s, which can be massively demotivating).
Praise can be just—if not more—motivating; a verbal or written “thank you” goes a long way. Public praise and recognition is also very valuable; seek your employee out in their workspace and thank them personally for their contribution. It acknowledges effort, builds allegiance and improves motivation.
Prioritize employee wellbeing
Happy, healthy employees are more motivated—an obvious point, yet one that’s often overlooked. Even when you’re in the middle of a big project, try to ensure your employees are getting enough downtime and making space for themselves.
Few things are more detrimental to motivation than burnout. Give your employees explicit encouragement and permission to manage their own flows—building regular breaks into their day. This is particularly critical for your remote employees, who are statistically much more likely to overwork.
The importance of regular breaks, cannot be overstated. A few minutes here and there can help team members unwind, keeping creativity—and motivation—burning. Make sure you set a healthy policy towards downtime, and consider running regular group social activities during office hours.
Lead with trust and respect
Employees want to have autonomy and independence at work. It feels good to be the master of your specialism, respected to plan and structure your time according to how you work best. So the most important thing managers can do is actually trust their employees and never micromanage.
Allow your workers to self-manage their workloads and involve them in finding solutions to problems, instead of simply handing solutions to them. This builds inclusion and trust, and allows your team to work in the way that suits them best. Giving employees responsibility and ownership over their work helps them feel more valued and integral to your company—and helps cultivate an overarching framework for long-term motivation.