Five Ways to Motivate Employees

Author: Dawn Weinberger | August 2, 2021

Finding sharp and talented employees for your small business is important, but it is just the beginning of building a great team. You also need to retain these employees. If you fail to keep them around, you might find yourself in a vicious cycle of hire-train-repeat (an endeavor that can be costly, time-consuming and aggravating).

One of the most important things you, as a small business owner, can do to avoid this vicious cycle is to help your employees stay motivated. Not only are motivated employees happier employees, they are also less likely to say “I quit” in response to on-the-job challenges and more likely to consistently produce high-quality work. 

What, exactly, does it take to motivate? It really all comes down to a few enduring motivational techniques. Here are five reliable ways to motivate the people who work for your small business so that they, in turn, will give your business the best that they’ve got. 

1. Provide freedom and flexibility to your team members

Whether your team is remote or working on site, the level of motivation among individual employees is bound to be higher if they don’t feel trapped by a micromanaging boss who demands a detailed account of how they spend their time each day.

Rather than concerning yourself with how many hours people are spending in front of their computers, allow them to structure their workweeks as they see fit. Does someone need to leave at 3pm to take a child to soccer practice, or put in a few extra hours on Wednesday and Thursday so they can take Friday afternoon off to tend to a personal matter (the scenarios are endless, but you catch the drift)? No problem, so long as they are holding up their end of the bargain (i.e. getting all of their work done on time). They’ll appreciate the autonomy and, in return, are that much more likely to spend their working hours in a state of focus rather than a state of clock watching.

Service-oriented businesses may find this concept less feasible, considering you can’t exactly allow retail employees or receptionists to come and go as they please. However, that does not make this motivational technique null and void for such businesses.

Consider letting employees request the days and hours they want to work rather than simply assigning shifts and time slots. Let them choose when they take their breaks. Be gracious if they need to make changes (even if those changes are sometimes last minute, because emergencies happen) and make sure they know whom to notify or talk to about needs related to their scheduled work hours.

2. Trust your employees to do their jobs

Along the same lines as providing freedom and flexibility, trusting them to do their jobs is a key piece of the motivational puzzle. Assuming you made great hires, they probably don’t need an overseer keeping tabs on them or telling them how to complete their work. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide tools and training when tools and training are needed (you should!). It simply means your employees will feel more motivated to do great work if they believe that their boss considers them capable. 

Practically speaking, one way to let your employees know that you trust them is to avoid looking over their shoulders all the time, demanding that they follow your processes and methodologies. Instead, concern yourself with the final product, assuming that whatever processes and methodologies they choose (within reason, of course) will lead to the results you want. As long as expectations are clearly communicated, a positive outcome is probable.  

3. Show appreciation and recognize achievements

By showing appreciation, we are not referring to a quick ‘thx’ text message sent in response to “the report will be delivered by 5pm.” We’re talking about those small but tangible things you can do to truly make your employees feel valued, like treating them to coffee, offering an extra personal day, sending flowers on their birthday, or celebrating employee appreciation day. The options are endless and they don’t have to be grandiose. All they have to be is genuine.

While you’re at it, take note of the fact that employees are also highly motivated by receiving recognition for a job well done. Did someone knock that presentation out of the park? Win over a tough-as-nails client? Solve a stubborn technology problem? Let them know you noticed. Whether that involves something as basic walking over to their desk and telling them you how much you appreciate their hard work or something as major as giving them a promotion and a raise is up to you, but the fact of the matter is you are more likely to see results like this again and again when their achievements are acknowledged again and again.

4. Give employees jobs that matches their interests and skills

Sometimes, you hire a new employee and they inadvertently wind up doing tasks that aren’t listed in their official job description (which they may or may not appreciate). Sometimes, time reveals that your sales assistant’s skills are more on par with a sales manager role or that your customer relations coordinator, despite a rock-solid work ethic, isn’t a good fit for a job that involves direct communication with customers. Regardless of the specifics, keeping someone in a job that doesn’t suit them, or one they have outgrown, is a surefire way to destroy motivation.

The remedy? Make sure all of your employees are in the right roles. Promote when the time is right, reassign people to other jobs when necessary and listen to what your employees are saying about their ideas and work-related goals. The other option, letting people languish in positions that aren’t right for them, is pretty much a guarantee that you’ll either lose good employers to other jobs or have a team full of discontented folks who are constantly counting down the minutes to the weekend.

5. Compensate your employees fairly

A Seattle business owner made headlines several years ago when he decided to phase in a $70K per year minimum wage for all employees, something that led to a significant salary increase for many of them (he cut his own salary from $1.1 million to $70K to help fund the new pay scale). Evidently, this action resulted in higher levels of productivity and job satisfaction, across the board.

This, of course, is an extreme case (few small business owners have the budget to establish this sort of compensation program). However, the reported success of this program makes the point that employees are often more motivated to do good work if they feel they are being paid fairly.

You can make this a reality among your employees by staying on top of your industry’s salary trends and making sure the compensation you offer is in range (because underpaid employees are bound to lose motivation, sooner rather than later).

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