How To Maximize Employee Motivation

Pile of gears in different sizes and bright colors all lying flat.

Many companies take employee motivation for granted. They assume that since they are paying market wages and provide health insurance, their employees are motivated. But merely being paid is not enough to assure employees take their jobs seriously. Pay and benefits are necessary but far from sufficient. The most successful companies know how to maximize employee motivation.

What Is Motivation

Motivation is the desire to invest effort into the job. Motivated employees will go the extra mile to help their company be successful. There are three aspects of motivation that translate into effort and results.

  • Direction of effort. Motivation determines what people do at work. Unmotivated employees do just enough to meet minimum performance requirements and stay out of trouble. Motivated employees go the extra mile and perform tasks that need to be done, even if not asked to do so.
  • Intensity of effort. This means how hard people work while performing a task. If you are cleaning your kitchen table, do you wipe slowly with little pressure, or do you rub fast and hard to get all the dirt off quickly?
  • Persistence of effort. Some people will work long hours until all tasks are done, while others spend as little time working as possible.

Motivated employees want to contribute and will maintain effort throughout the day. They can be relied upon to do more than just put in their time, but persist at tasks until they are done.

How To Maximize Employee Motivation

There are many things that company leaders can do to maximize employee motivation. These actions make employees feel values and supported.

  • Meet Employee Needs. Self-determination theory explains that people are motivated to fulfill three basic needs: autonomy (a feeling of being able to control our lives), competence (feeling that we are capable of performing) and relatedness (having close relationships with others). Companies can capitalize on these already existing motivations by creating jobs that allow the needs to be met. Empowering employees and allowing them to self manage addresses autonomy, providing opportunities for learning and growth addresses competence, and promoting good relationships with leaders and others promotes relatedness.
  • Rewards Are Not Just Money. When told they should reward employees, many managers complain that they cannot afford it. Rewards, however, are not just about money. Motivation can be enhanced by things other than pay including intangibles such as appreciation (“thank you”), praise (“great job”), and offers of assistance (“let me know if you need help with that”). Other rewards can be inexpensive, such as taking someone out to lunch or giving everyone a company t-shirt.
  • Fairness Is Key. Nothing undermines motivation more than being treated unfairly. People need to feel that rewards are distributed using a fair system. If one person is rewarded for accomplishing something, all who accomplish the same thing should get the same reward. Favoritism, whether real or imagined, can undermine motivation.
  • Building Trust in Leadership. It is important that employees believe that leaders are honest and transparent. Building trust requires consistency and a willingness to share information. Leaders should model the behavior they ask of their employees and be sure that they do the actions they ask of others. Having a trusted leader motivates employees.
  • Make Employees Feel Cared For. Motivation is a two-way street. Employees need to feel cared for if they in turn are going to care about their companies. Being cared for means employees believe their company is concerned about their health, safety, and well-being as people and not just cogs in the machine. The best way to convince employees that you care about them is to care about them. In other words, employee welfare should be a top priority, and should be considered in all decisions that affect people. For every action, leaders should ask themselves if will affect their people, and how negative impact could be minimized.
  • Supporting Employees Is Important. Part of making employees feel cared for is supporting them. There are two important types of support. First, leaders should be available to assist in getting tasks done. This might be by providing instruction with new tasks or offering help when workloads are heavy. Second, leaders should provide emotional support (sympathetic ear) when employees are dealing with personal challenges at work or beyond. Providing help, however, requires skill to avoid pitfalls. It should never be imposed, but merely be made available if employees want it.

One of the most important roles of leaders is to motivate their employees. This can be done by considering the needs and welfare of employees. An investment of effort into taking care of employees will pay back in extra motivation, effort, and performance.

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