A sense of responsibility, communication skills and passion: these are three qualities that every company wants to see in its employees. But employees aren’t always able to meet these expectations because laying the groundwork depends on the company. In the past, many companies realized that good salaries and bonuses alone aren’t enough to motivate employees.
While some employees are attracted to start-ups where the atmosphere is more laid-back, others prefer to work in the social sector or from home. The reasons behind employee motivation are diverse in nature, resulting in completely new challenges for an employer. The key to employee motivation is hidden deep beneath the surface in the modern working world. It lies in what is called “intrinsic employee motivation,” which focuses on an employee’s personal well-being. The reason for this is that employees carry out their tasks because they find them interesting and because they want to. Of course, this does not mean that extrinsic employee motivation (their salary, for example) should be neglected. Rather, it’s necessary to combine both forms of employee motivation in normal day-to-day business, while favouring intrinsic employee motivation. The challenges in modern daily work aren’t just routine activities anymore — only if employees contribute, become creative, and identify with the company’s goals can a successful corporate culture be established.
But how can a company achieve this?
To answer this question, we listed ten rules that help motivate employees:
1. Find suitable talent
Employee motivation is comparable to buying new shoes. If a shoe looks good in the shop but leaves blisters when you first wear it, it won’t work out in the long term, no matter how stylish it is: the shoe ends up gathering dust in the closet. This is also the case with employee motivation. In principle, it starts in the hiring process. If you fill the position with the right person, motivating them shouldn’t be an issue. When selecting candidates, it’s not just the professional qualifications that are key, but also how much they fit the corporate culture. This can significantly influence employee motivation right from the start. If the job advertisement provides insight into the prevailing corporate culture, applicants who are particularly suitable are more likely to apply. The hiring team should also evaluate the cultural fit of the candidates during the interview. In this way, you can avoid people quitting after a few weeks or months and keep highly qualified employees from jumping ship.
The hiring team can, for example, use personality assessments like the Myers-Briggs test during the hiring process. This model, however, is controversial So here’s a new suggestion: Rely entirely on your gut feeling. That sounds like well-intentioned advice from a women’s magazine, but the idea has been scientifically proven. According to research by sociologist Anthony Giddens, gut instinct is often a much more reliable basis for making decisions than “rational” analysis. Nonetheless, this scientific approach is also debatable, so the truth is certainly somewhere in between the two. Using a good mixture of both approaches should make the selection similar to the one in a shoe shop: At the end of the day you leave with a shoebox in your hands and a satisfied smile.
2. Trust and personal responsibility
Employees know much more about the problems in a company and how to solve them than superiors assume. A key to motivating employees is, therefore, transferring responsibility. In order to prevent this strategy from backfiring, the tasks and the scope of responsibility should be clearly defined. Once employees are comfortable in their roles, they should manage projects independently. This step shows trust in the employees and serves as a milestone in employee motivation.
3. Flexible work arrangements
Digitalisation and globalisation often mean that work and leisure time aren’t mutually exclusive. The strict distinction between work and private life has faded away in the modern working world. Work-life blending describes the fusion that is currently leading to heated debates. Some see this as a recipe for burnout, while others see the ideal framework to combine their private life with their job. Especially for professionals with children, the concept seems to open new doors into the professional world. The best way to avoid the debate and still maintain employee motivation is to promote both work-life balance and work-life blending. That way, employees are given the option of flexible working hours as well as home office. Therefore, individual job profiles are tailored to fit the current phase in an employee’s life. For example, parents can look after their children, pick them up from daycare, cook for them and work at home at the same time. If individual career planning and age-appropriate work structuring are possible, employees are automatically more motivated. Whether this work-life blending actually contributes to employee motivation or rather promotes burnout is currently the subject of debate; however, one thing is certain: If employees can make their own decisions about when and where they work, at least nothing stands in the way of a work-life balance.
4. Create opportunities and set goals
According to surveys, the majority of employees are interested in further training. This is where superiors can start with employee motivation. Continuing education begins with simple things like observing individual departments in order to distribute more responsibility. High-quality management courses increase employee motivation and represent an investment in the next generation of managers.
Foreign languages are indispensable for working internationally. Often, the working language of a company is English, even when many employees aren’t native speakers. Language learning apps such as Babbel are a good way to ensure that employees are able to learn a language no matter their working arrangements. Flexible language learning is thus not only effective but can also maintain work-life balance.
5. Positive working atmosphere
When more than half of the day is spent at work, colleagues shouldn’t only know each other through anonymous emails. Team events in a relaxed atmosphere are essential for getting to know each other and, in turn, increasing employee motivation. After all, nothing increases employee motivation more than a positive and friendly working atmosphere. Additional mentoring helps junior staff get involved in the new company: If superiors understand the concerns and needs of their employees, they can not only implement measures to address employee motivation directly but also introduce measures to prevent employees from feeling isolated or bullied.
6. Productive error culture
Mistakes happen but they are learning opportunities. Mistakes happen every day and sometimes lead to fierce criticism and, in some cases, even reprimands. This harms employee motivation — even more so when the negative criticism is done in front of the team. Instead of publicly exposing an employee’s mistakes, personal feedback and constructive criticism should be given in private. In discussions, supervisors should work with employees to propose solutions and agree on targets for specific time periods. In addition to constructive criticism, positive feedback shouldn’t be forgotten. For example, even a discussion focused on negative feedback should include more than 50 percent positive messages in order to strengthen employee motivation.
7. Celebrate successes!
Give praise, but do it correctly: Supervisors have plenty of opportunities to sustainably increase employee motivation. Commendations at company celebrations are rarely taken seriously, but spontaneously expressed praise is appreciated much more. When work is almost complete, recognition can increase employee motivation in such a way that an average job becomes an excellent one. Employees like to hear general praise, but it doesn’t affect them that much. Therefore, it’s better for employee motivation to give praise directly and promptly.
8. Fair salaries and individual rewards
You can only buy employee motivation to a certain extent. An above-average paycheck does not automatically lead to a more motivated employee. Bonuses are gratifying, but not a magic bullet. Research has shown that intrinsic employee motivation decreases by 36 percent when rewards become calculable. Instead, supervisors can sustain employee motivation with small gifts, such as tickets to sporting events.
9. A pleasant working environment
Coffee machines, tea makers, microwaves, water and fresh fruit are small things, but they pay off enormously for employee motivation. Physical working conditions are even more important. After all, nobody likes to work when the office chair turns sitting into torture, the monitor is far too small and the paint is peeling off the walls. Large companies now offer their own sports and wellness programmes and many medium-sized companies can also use this strategy to motivate employees by handing out vouchers for yoga or autogenic training, for example.
Employees often know more about work processes than their superiors, so an open ear can increase employee motivation. The prerequisite is a relationship of trust: Supervisors should not only listen when feedback is given, but they should also use it to help shape their strategy. Regular surveys and an open-door policy help uncover problems and give employees the feeling that their opinions are being taken seriously.
Communication is the key to motivation
There are many ways to successfully motivate employees. However, the most sustainable strategies always involve communication. In this way, the feeling of appreciation and a pleasant atmosphere in the workplace stimulate successful employee motivation which not only increases productivity but word-of-mouth recommendations also ensure that suitable colleagues feel attracted to a company. This automatically brings additional talent into the organization and strengthens employee loyalty — two qualities that help organizations not only survive, but thrive.