Anyone who worked an office job during the 1990s is probably very familiar with motivational posters. Each featured a photo of scenery or of someone succeeding at a challenging activity (such as rock climbing or hang gliding), and below it a black background with some pithy quote. During that decade, it was impossible to walk into a corporate workplace without spotting at least one of those posters hanging next to the watercooler or gracing the HR director’s door.
Those posters dotted the corporate landscape because the people who created (and sold) them knew how to leverage a concern that keeps many managers up at night: how to motivate employees. The posters are no longer as prevalent as they used to be, and employers are constantly on the lookout for new ways to increase motivation. It’s critical that companies address this challenge, because motivated employees work harder, require less management, and produce better results.
Unfortunately, few employees are entirely self-motivated. Posters alone won’t change that, but workplace culture can significantly influence motivation. Recent research shows that “when organizations have a thriving culture, employees rate their satisfaction with employee experience 102 percent higher” -and engaged employees quickly become motivated employees.1 By implementing effective employee engagement strategies, a company can build an inspiring workplace culture that will motivate its people for years to come.
Personalize motivation tactics
There’s no single thing that motivates everyone, which is why managers need to learn what drives each employee individually. They need to connect with their employees on a personal level and bond with them as their leader, mentor, and friend. By getting to know team members as people, managers can discover how to motivate them as employees.
Nothing shows employees that management thinks they’re incapable quite like the dreaded m word: micromanaging. Instead of being a helicopter boss, a manager needs to be a mentor. This approach can yield great benefits: “when a leader is an active mentor,” employees report a substantial (102 percent) increase in their motivation.2 Mentors give their people the tools they need to succeed-then trust them to get the job done.
Show trust through transparency
The importance of trust in the workplace really can’t be overstated. Managers should not keep significant company information from their teams but should instead treat their people as adults with the emotional intelligence to handle both good news and bad news. Share challenges to give them something to overcome and share successes to give them something to celebrate.
Loosen up the work schedule
Few things are more demotivating than feeling confined by one’s job. If the organization’s business process allows it, use flexible schedules to give employees more freedom. This is a lifesaver for working parents, students, or anyone whose busy life requires adaptable working hours. A little flexibility now can lead to more employee happiness in the long run.
Assign special projects
Most employees don’t have the chance to experience big successes in their daily routines, so managers need to provide those opportunities. One survey found that “when an employee participates in a special project and excels,” they are “20 percent more likely to have an increased sense of success.”3 Once people get a taste of success, they are motivated to want and achieve more of it.
Support strong team bonds
It’s difficult for someone to connect emotionally with an entire company, but when they connect with a small group of people-their team-that bond can inspire unshakable loyalty. The more an employee cares about their team, the more likely they are to work toward its success. These working relationships often develop naturally, but managers can help them grow by giving their people time and opportunities to bond with each other.
Consider employees’ unique insights
No one wants to feel like their ideas don’t matter-especially in the workplace. The consequences of this can be significant: in one survey, “38 percent of employees felt that when leaders dismiss their ideas without entertaining them, they tend to lack initiative.”4 To combat this, managers should encourage their employees to share their ideas. This strategy can yield insider solutions for company problems and opportunities for leaders to empower your people.
Give employees the resources they need
It almost seems too simple to be true, but the fact is that many employees are unmotivated purely because they haven’t been given what they need to do their jobs well. Often, companies spend thousands of hours searching for highly motivated people without realizing they’ve already hired them-they just don’t have the tools or resources they require to succeed.
Give work meaning
Doing work that feels meaningful can make someone feel significantly (49 percent) more motivated to help the company be successful.5 Managers can improve employee engagement by building company culture around a higher purpose, then showing people how their work helps reach that goal.
Provide clear goals and immediate rewards
Once they have a larger purpose, employees need manageable ways to achieve it. To motivate employees, managers should provide a step-by-step path to success by setting clear, attainable goals for their employees and giving out recognition rewards when they are met.
Infuse gratitude into the culture
All healthy relationships (including professional ones) are based on reciprocity. The more leaders care about their people (and show it through recognition), the more employees will care about their leaders and the organization (and show it through their work). Expressions of gratitude don’t have to be over the top. Even small gestures, such as providing healthy snacks and writing the occasional heartfelt thank-you letters, can go a long way.
Motivation can’t be forced, and there’s no secret key that unlocks the “motivation vault” hidden in all employees. But leaders can foster motivation by making day-to-day choices to create a culture that helps people feel inspired, driven, and fulfilled.
1 O.C. Tanner Institute. 2020. “2020 Global Culture Report.” O.C. Tanner website, www.octanner.com/content/dam/oc-tanner/documents/white-papers/2019/INT-GCR2020-12.pdf.
2 O.C. Tanner Institute. 2018. “2018 Global Culture Report.” O.C. Tanner website, www.octanner.com/content/dam/oc-tanner/documents/white-papers/2018/2018_Global_Culture_Report.pdf.
4 Ranjit Jose. 2015. “5 Reasons Why You Should Listen to Your Employees.” SHRM blog, December 7, blog.shrm.org/blog/5-reasons-why-you-should-listen-to-your-employees.
5 O.C. Tanner Institute. 2018.