Business leaders and HR managers are paying close attention to the HR transformation that’s underway. No company is immune to the people disengagement epidemic, which affects 85% of employees and accounts for $7 trillion in lost productivity. Hierarchical corporations and agile startups alike struggle to adapt to the Millennial and GenZ populations’ mindset as their workforce takeover ensues. Furthermore, employers are faced with the challenges of catering to a multi-generational workplace as our workforce ages.

While companies of all sizes worry about their bottom line, HR and business leaders increasingly acknowledge the value of investing in the employee experience to retain their best asset: their people. The logic is simple: create the kind of workplace that your people want. They will thrive, and everyone’s a winner. However, when it comes to how this translates into the real world, perks like happy hours, ping pong tables, and yoga classes may be nice, but they won’t move the needle where people’s motivation is concerned.

Motivation is the catalyst that fosters fulfillment and builds engagement, ultimately benefitting both the individual and the employer. Building motivation requires focusing on intangible elements such as recognition, transparent ongoing communications, and accessible leaders. Empowering your workforce to view their role as part of something bigger will reward them with the fulfillment they seek while building trust and loyalty, ultimately leading to improved performance.

This guide will explore proven approaches to inspiring motivation through culture and management and ways to create a workplace that lends itself to this goal. We’ll also dive into proven motivation-building techniques that shouldn’t be overlooked. We’ll also address the role that technology plays. 

Focus on culture

Peter Drucker is famous for his saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This is true when attempting to foster motivation among your people. A positive workplace culture lays the foundation for inspiring employee motivation. A Deloitte survey related to culture in the workplace revealed that:

“Exceptional organizations create and sustain a culture that engages and motivates their employees.

  • 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success.
  • There is a correlation between employees who say they are ‘happy at work’ and feel ‘valued by [their] company’ and those who say their organization has a clearly articulated and lived culture.”

Motivation and engagement can only be achieved if a company’s culture includes transparent policies surrounding progression. Effective management and positive leadership will grow people who take pride in their work and seek advancement. Positive reinforcement of goals and celebrating achievements will make your people feel valued, in turn creating a positive workplace culture that supports and encourages others to do the same. 

No one-size-fits-all: generational differences

Since we’re talking about individuals here, it would be flawed to assume that identical motivation techniques can be applied across the board. Generational differences impact the ways that motivational techniques affect your people. To fully realize the potential of every team member, their generational values and priorities must be carefully considered. Goldbeck’s matrix of Generational Values and Personality (2010) addresses motivation through the eyes of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Y. The matrix points out the stereotypical generational values and personalities with regards to work, leadership, interaction, motivation, and others.

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Since 2010, our workforce has ushered in Generation Z (1997- 2012), that is projected to make up 36% of the global workforce by 2020. GenZ, as they are known, have prominently made their mark in their short few years in the workplace. This ambitious demographic is more entrepreneurial and fiscally responsible, having been raised in a recession. Interestingly, 1 in 2 GenZs will be university educated, compared with 1 in 3 Millennials and 1 in 4 GenXers. 

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Of course, it’s important to understand that these generational descriptions are stereotypes. Employers must get to know each and every member of their team, and understand their preferences vis-a-vis work-life balance, compensation vs. benefits, and more.

One-to-one management

As people employed by the same company vary, so too should the way they are approached, measured, and rewarded. One-to-one management revolutionizes traditional management by creating a custom approach for each employee, similar to the way companies apply target marketing to anticipate the needs of their customers. By pinpointing what makes each of your people tick, managers give their team members the sensation that they are truly cared for as unique individuals.

“Employee-tailored services can be as inexpensive as changing cleaning products to ease the airways of an asthmatic, or special-ordering vegan and kosher meals at company functions. They can also be cost-effective, delivering the same bull’s-eye impact as target marketing. Target marketing aims to provide the appropriate products and services to people with specific needs,” explains one software company’s CEO, who didn’t want his organization’s accommodating nature publicized. “Similarly, if you target the right benefits to the individual, you eliminate a lot of waste and inefficiency associated with providing blanket benefits to people who didn’t want or need them.”

Inc magazine

Behind this effort to personalize employer-employee relations is the very real threat of churn. Employers increase their people’s loyalty by going the extra mile to get to know their personal needs and desires. 

Constant share of information

Today’s technological advancement affords hyper-productivity, which translates into fast growth and rapid change. Informing your people of changes and updating them on business goals and strategy makes them feel like an important part of the company, thereby building motivation. As business leaders have a clear perspective of operations and their impact on the big picture, it is their obligation to keep their employees in the know, ensuring that all employees in the same layer have exactly the same information.

Managers must weigh the best format in which to communicate with their teams, with the goal of engaging as many employees as possible. Internal communications come in many shapes and sizes: stand up meetings, email newsletters, shared documents, internal social media platforms (such as Slack or Microsoft Teams), company intranet, town halls, webcasts, and so on. The most effective way to communicate is where your employee is already present; this will ensure that your messaging doesn’t fall on deaf ears. For example, a younger demographic will gravitate towards social media or video messaging and is not likely to read emails. The opposite is true for Baby Boomers.

Information overload means that your people feel inundated by information and are unlikely to actually click on or read any messages. Deliver messages in a concise, informative, and eye-catching way. Segment your messaging to appeal to each demographic as needed. 

Work-life balance

Are your people stuck at their desks for 12 hour days on a regular basis? Recognizing the need for a balance between employees’ professional and personal lives is critical to their long-term happiness and productivity, and just as equally important to the health of the employee and the business.

Research conducted on well-being in the workplace by Deloitte revealed that 33% are uncomfortable with taking off personal time or vacation days, 32% admit to consistently putting work commitments ahead of family or personal commitments, and 48% said they felt their organization values their life outside work.

A healthy work-life balance increases productivity and heightens employee engagement. It reduces costs associated with employee turnover and absenteeism. Reduced stress will mean lower medical costs, and a focus on well-being will create a more attractive workplace that is in tune with its people.

Some effective ways to achieve work-life balance include:

  • Increased autonomy
  • More flex time and openness to work from home 
  • Extended maternal and paternal leave 
  • Increased time off
  • Setting clear boundaries
  • Introduction of annual employee family event 

In the US, leaving vacation days unused has become an unfortunate national pastime, with more than half of Americans leaving paid vacation days unused in 2017. Employees who refrain from enjoying their vacation time become burnt-out and overworked, impacting their productivity. Some companies are encouraging their people to take a much needed break by paying them to chill through generous vacation stipends or other perks. Some others, like Netflix and Virgin, are offering unlimited vacation policies.

There’s no argument that people productivity surges after taking a break, but the backlog of emails, never-ending catch up meetings, and overwhelming piled up tasks can be a strain on even the most motivated employee.

Managers can help refocus their team members by using these tips to help get back into the grind:

  • Ease back into reality, starting on your last day of vacation
  • Create a game plan to prioritize, delegate, and conquer
  • Use time management apps and tools to successfully get through the transition period
  • Pace yourself: leave work for tomorrow
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Create an inspirational environment

Employee motivation is bred in an environment that inspires. This is difficult to implement, with no real recipe for success. Here are three pillars that will lend to a culture that inspires employees:

1. Encourage creativity and innovation

Today’s leading innovators are not leaders by coincidence. They have invested time and resources to heighten creativity among their teams, and continuously aim to perfect the process of taking an idea from conception to production. Their successes highlight the importance of leveraging creative thinkers by affording them the opportunity to think out of the box. The creative process is highly engaging, and generates excitement and passion for participating personnel.

Google, arguably today’s leading innovator, shares some of the tools, mindsets, and approaches in its Re:Work blog. Google’s most invaluable lesson is the way it relates to the risk of failure. In its Re:Work guides on innovation, organizations are advised to determine their tolerance for failure, keeping in mind that employees’ fear of failure will directly impact innovation. Companies must consider how much risk they are willing to expose themselves to by encouraging innovation, and supporting employees to be less fearful of failing. Some Google teams hold a “premortem” to discuss what may go wrong before the project actually begins, which normalizes failure by openly discussing it:

“Every quarter, Google’s leaders review their performance against set objectives and key results (OKRs) in front of the whole company. More often than not, teams don’t hit their goal 100 percent, but aren’t ashamed to share details of their progress and missteps. Leaders regularly explain why they didn’t fully achieve their stated goals, what they’ve learned, and what they plan to do next to move forward. Modeling failure in this way sends a powerful message to everyone in the company that it is OK to fail so long as you learn from it, share what you’ve learned, and make plans to do better…”

Creativity and innovation might take time to bear fruit, as employees become less inhibited and employers become more supportive and open minded. Despite the risks associated with failure, by encouraging your most creative talent’s innovation, your organization is less likely to lose them to self employment or the competition. Enabling their creative juices to flow is yet another tactic that builds motivation for your valued people. Consider these creativity building strategies to inspire your people to become more fulfilled and productive:

Creative environment: First, create an environment that encourages creativity. You could decorate one area of your office with some nice, bright colors and designate that area to your people, giving the team some sense of ownership.

Work hard, play harder: Allow your team to play. You can have colored markers, flip charts, Legos, play dough, painting, music, and anything that sparks the creative process during brainstorm sessions.

Brainstorming: Set a bi-weekly meeting where you can brainstorm and work on a problem or project. This gives your team the right intention before entering your meeting.

Goal board: Create a board where you have goals or strategies that your company is striving for and each week you can focus on one goal or problem to solve or work on.

Homework and teamwork: You may give your team some pre-work where you have one agenda for the meeting and they all have to come into this meeting with one suggestion or solution to your goal or problem.

Reward creativity: Of course, this follows with a reward for the best suggestion or solution that your team is all agreed upon. This is just as important as the implementation of the suggestion or idea.

Establish engaging rewards: Incentives could be movie tickets, a bottle of wine, a Thai massage, a voucher, or money. You could even go a step further and have a board to acknowledge and encourage creative thinking. 

2. Learning and development

Offering L&D opportunities to your people grants them the opportunity to contribute to the success of the company while developing their own skillset. This investment by an employer portrays the worth of an employee both as an individual and as an asset to the company. An opportunity to learn and develop can bolster one’s sense of security, boosting their confidence to soar to new heights. However, sending your people to a course or giving them free access to online courses is not always enough. Managers must ensure that their people can apply their newly gained knowledge, advancing the way they accomplish their work and benefitting their careers.

Successful training programs are ones that understand what motivates employees. Avoid costly training mistakes by researching rather than guessing what will advance and benefit your people and workplace.

Managers can motivate successful L&D by linking it to measurable objectives. Research shows that workplace learning is inspired surrounding recurring situations, as shown below: 

Learning to grow: Almost half of surveyed employees (45%) said they wanted an exciting challenge, project, or new role to tackle and as a result, wanted to learn new skills.

Learning to catch up: A third of employees said they were learning because they needed to fill missing skills (31%). In this learning moment, employees are a bit more anxious, but they are still excited to learn. They view learning as a tool they can use to fill in any skills gaps they need to complete a project or simply perform in their role.

Learning for external change: 8% of those surveyed turned to learning as a result of an external change at work, a situation outside of their control. For example, the company may have decided to change programming languages, reorganize the team’s structure, or introduce a new tool. These external changes force people to learn.

Always learning: An even smaller group of employees, 6% of those surveyed, were learning simply for the sake of learning. These individuals are your constant, motivated learners and natural evangelists for L&D. They find learning moments and opportunities everywhere and seek to learn in every work situation.

Furthermore, the traditional training of computer skills through instruction and practice is no longer sufficient. Courses should be experiential, interactive, and gamified to cater to the younger workforce, who are not necessarily receptive to frontal learning. 

3. Varied recruiting

A motivational culture is impacted by the kinds of people employed by a company. Recruiters are advised to focus hiring efforts on high performance over hiring candidates of similar characters and backgrounds. A workplace filled with clones is likely to be pretty unexciting, whereas one filled with experts from all walks of life will introduce unique perspectives and attitudes forming a more balanced environment.

Recruiters ought to pay attention to candidates with high Emotional Intelligence, also known as Emotional Quotient (E.Q). E.Q. was ranked 6th in the World Economic Forum’s list of the top 10 skills that employees must possess to thrive in the workplace of the future. Individuals with a higher E.Q. are more capable of self- regulation and possess higher levels of motivation. This reduces their tendency to procrastinate, leads to increased self-confidence, and enables them to focus on achieving long-term goals. These individuals are most likely to take pride in accomplishments purely for their own personal fulfillment.

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Non-monetary compensation

The obvious and most effective way to boost people productivity is through competition and reward. However, regular monetary incentives risk becoming an expectation rather than a reward. Business leaders ought to consider different kinds of rewards and when to use them.

Compensation structures that motivate

Special rewards are a great way to build motivation among your people, as they’re issued seldom and in cases where they are well-deserved. These can build traction in performance while an employee is involved in a large or complex project, and can impact the enthusiasm of the entire team involved. These rewards are not necessarily competitive with another employee; they can be granted to an employee who outdoes himself, surpassing his normal capabilities.

Scheduled rewards are the annual bonus type of arrangement that follow every annual review where an employee shows a measurable improvement. While people have come to “expect” these incentives, they still tend to motivate performance as they are only awarded once goals are met.

Both special and scheduled rewards are based on employee performance, reinforcing their sense of control over their compensation. After all, no self respecting employee will work hard for their boss to reap the reward.

Profit sharing is another form of incentivizing your people based on the company’s profitability, that doesn’t pit employees against each other competitively. Rewarding an employee with company options reinforces a feeling of “buy-in” and will encourage continual productivity in a non-competitive way. Some companies may opt to donate a percentage of profits to a charity or non-profit, and that may resonate with some of your people who wish to donate to a special cause. This may appeal to many Millennial and GenZ employees who are known for their aspiration to a life of fulfillment, purpose, and meaning.

All these incentive-based rewards will only apply to conscientious employees, doing little for apathetic employees. This further motivates performance, giving your people an impetus and a sense of control to up their game. 

Employee recognition

While pay is the number one reason our people come to work each day, equally important factors include their desire to make a contribution to the company, to be treated fairly, and be valued for their efforts. Business leaders have recognized this, with as many as 80% of companies implementing Employee Recognition Programs to this end. Programs like these create a process where senior managers select and thank their people for noteworthy achievements that are both isolated and ongoing, thereby improving recruitment/retention and creating a winning culture in the company.

Different rewards will be appreciated by each individual, depending on their character, values, and sometimes generational differences. Popular rewards include:

  • Simple positive feedback one on one, or verbal accolades in a staff meeting
  • Written thank-you notes or positive feedback on employee file 
  • Spot bonuses including cash or gift cards
  • Vacation packages for outstanding performance

A successful Employee Recognition Program determines and communicates the criteria for employee success. Programs should support the company’s important initiatives and provides meaning its people, offering rewards that are fair, adequate, and aligned with organizational goals and values. The success of the program must be measurable to track the value it creates, using retention, financial results, and people productivity metrics.

Although companies typically recognize employees’ length-of-service milestones and instances of strong individual or team performance, many of them are beginning to focus on less traditional areas for recognition:

  • The ability to manage or champion change Innovation
  • System improvements
  • Customer or client retention 
  • Morale-building
  • Talent acquisition and retention 
  • Market diversification 
  • Technological advances 
  • Significant personal development
  • Actions that embody the organization’s core values

While incentivizing employees is an effective way to build employee motivation, one by-product of instituting monetary and non-monetary incentives is the competition it creates in the workplace. While competition can act as a powerful motivator, it can also wreak havoc if not used wisely. Management should be wary of routinely rewarding the same kind of employee, which may cause other ‘types’ to lose confidence or resent winners. Worst of all, competition may kill teamwork, affecting the collaborative spirit. Your people should feel they are competing against themselves more than others, spurring self-improvement rather than jealousy, animosity, or negative vibes amongst teams. 

The importance of great leaders 

In his legendary TED Talk entitled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”, Simon Sinek points out that employee motivation is not something that can be enforced. He opines that it is the role of a leader to inspire motivation, and he brilliantly points to ways they can achieve this.

“As it turns out, all the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers, they all think, act, and communicate the exact same way… But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations regardless of their size, regardless of their industry—all think, act and communicate from the inside out.” –  Simon Sinek

Just as inspired leaders hold the power to inspire an entire company, poor leadership can be equally as destructive. Business leaders must ensure that managerial practices in the company foster the kind of experience that will breed motivation. This means managers must avoid processes that constrain autonomy, excessive monitoring, or require unnecessary authorization. Managers must be trained to employ motivation boosting techniques in their day-to-day interactions with teams. 

Motivation boosting techniques for managers

Stop micromanaging

  • Rid yourself of behavior that is destructive or demoralizing.
  • Interact with your team in a transparent and communicative manner.
  • Relinquish control, let go of perfection, and delegate responsibilities.

Step out of your comfort zone

  • Combat boredom of mundane tasks through taking on an unfamiliar challenge.
  • Leaders should be the trailblazers who step out of their comfort zone first.
  • Through leaders sharing their process with teams, the approach will soon resonate with their staff.

Promote project ownership through autonomy

  • Involve staff in the project decision-making process of planning, reporting and evaluation rather than just the “doing.”
  • Encourage your people to apply their own judgement in solving problems and make decisions that influence their work.
  • Enable employees to see tasks they start through to completion and communicate their contribution to the final product and how it fits into the big picture. 

Conclusion

As employers devise strategies to build employee loyalty, engagement, and enthusiasm, motivation stimulates all of these, translating into superior performance that equally benefits the employer and their people. As Simon Sinek points out, driving motivation in individual employees is hard to accomplish, and beyond the control of managers. Amazing leaders cannot be relied on as the only way to inspire motivation among staff.

An inspirational work environment and the right managerial approaches will create employees who take pride in their achievements and seek professional advancement. Incentivizing employees and celebrating their successes will make your people feel valued, in turn creating a positive workplace culture that supports and encourages others to do the same.

Customization will help appeal to every employee, as generational values differ greatly and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all strategy.

Today’s market of software solutions offers HR and business leaders an impressive variety of features to drive motivation plans into action. By implementing tools that automate data collection and reporting, the C-suite can make data-driven decisions to create a plan that ignites company culture and builds employee motivation. 

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bob is designed and developed for the new world of work. Onsite, hybrid, and remote HR leaders can drive culture, two-way communication, engagement, performance, and compensation. bob’s innovative UI, automated processes, and integrations with leading third-party tools ease administrative tasks for everyone across the organization and make even the most mundane work tasks pleasant, intuitive and engaging—and not just for HR admins. bob puts people first with culture tools that connect co-located and remote employees to their fast-growing, global companies.