Employee Motivation…. How Hard Can That Be?

In my long career as an HR professional, I have initiated employee focus groups for about everything under the sun. We have focused on workplace activities, employee and family company events, rewards and recognition programs, holiday potlucks, international holiday celebrations, birthday and anniversary recognitions and a lot of town hall meetings on what we can do better as a company.


As you can imagine, I have collected a laundry list of motivators as long as the Amazon River. That’s a lot of employee input!
There have been multiple, okay thousands of, articles that were written about employee motivation. When sifting through all the Google suggestions, I came across two that had great merit. Forbes article on The Top 9 Things That Ultimately Motivate Employees to Achieve, although written a couple years ago, it has some great suggestions on how to help your employees reach peak performance…..and 37 Ways to Keep Your Employees Motivated From a 37-Year-Old Entrepreneur who says it all in a nutshell. It’s an exhausting list but well worth the read.
As a seasoned HR person, I know how hard it is to create one set of motivators that fit all. And, I am equally aware of how hard it is to get the top leaders of a company to pledge they will stand behind what they say in a Town Hall meeting. With leadership’s time being the biggest culprit, I have pared the list down to 7 tried and true employee motivators. No matter where your company is, no matter what the industry, these low cost or no cost motivators can turn the heads of even your most hard-to-please employees.
7 Tried and True Employee Motivators

  1. Listen: I know none of you are surprised that “to listen to your employees” is one of the best motivators in the workplace.  It really does take a concerted effort to clear your mind and listen to what your employees are saying. And, it also takes a commitment to make it happen. Set aside time every day to walk through the office, read emails your employees send, or be part of a project update. Employees who know you are investing time in them are more likely to stay than not. If they matter to you, then you will matter to them.
  2. Lead: It’s almost time for the 2016 US presidential elections and everyone is waiting to see who has the leadership skills to carry the country. Everyone wants a strong leader who will take us from where we are to where we need to be. It is very similar in the workplace. Employees look for company executives who exude leadership in the community and in their organizations. If you lead, they will follow.
  3. Recognize: Believe it or not, recognition beats out rewards in the workplace. And, it’s 100% free! When you were a kid, your teachers would praise you for doing a good job and put a happy face on your drawing…. or better yet, when you got your term paper back from your professor and it was marked 99%, “great job,” remember how that made you feel?  Surprisingly the same types of kudos work today. Although money can be a motivator, if your boss doesn’t notice you are contributing at a high level, then your hard work seems to go unnoticed. If you recognize, they will reward you with hard work and dedication.
  4. Thank: Let’s put some manners back in the workplace. Not enough can be said for the simple “Thank You.” I purposely made this its own category of motivation because it’s so easy, it takes 5 seconds and its just not said enough. A kind thank you is a reward in real time and can turn a day of bad events into a happy drive home from the office. If you say “thank you,” they will notice.
  5. Empower: To be empowered means to tell all employees your mission, your vision and what it takes for the company to be successful. Including employees in the corporate strategy gives them a purpose. Aligning employee goals to corporate strategy gives them the power of success. If they succeed, you will succeed.
  6. Set Goals: Setting goals starts with clear expectations. I can’t emphasize this enough. Make sure the goals are clearly defined and attainable. If it takes a team to get it done, assign a team. By cascading goals from the strategic planning session to each department, everyone ends up working towards the same outcomes. If they achieve their goals, the company achieves its goals.
  7. Celebrate: To celebrate is defined as “to observe a notable occasion with festivities.” Celebrations play an important part in workplace unity. Celebrations are especially important when milestones are met, such as; a team exceeds its goals, a project is completed before the deadline, the company revenue goals exceed projections, or your latest customer satisfaction survey gets a glowing review. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team so celebrate the little and the big wins…..and do it often. If you celebrate, everyone will be energized.

Having the right tools can make your motivation efforts easy by streamlining the process of setting goals, evaluating performance, recognizing wins, identifying those who need help, and last but not least rewarding and keeping your high performers.
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