Employee motivation is not really a mystery, but many managers seem to be mystified about it. Those who work for you are like people everywhere—they perform best when they are appreciated, comfortable and feel like they belong. Unfortunately, many managers don’t think about the atmosphere that exists in their workplace until a problem occurs, like the work isn’t getting done or an employee survey shows that employees are unhappy.
Actually, no one can truly motivate anyone else because motivation is a very personal process and must come from the individual. However, management can influence team motivation by creating an environment that allows employees to feel appreciated, free to express their ideas and to know that they are treated fairly.
Many managers make the mistake of assuming that they know what their workers want in the way of rewards, workplace freedom, etc. They think that their employees will be motivated by the same things as they are. As an example, one of my team members once told me that he was motivated by our company-provided logo t-shirts and caps. He said that he was very upset at his last company when the company stopped providing logo caps and t-shirts to team members free of charge. I was taken aback because the last thing I wanted in my life was free company swag (short for “sealed with a gift”). I had no idea that my group of techs would ever be interested in something like that because it seemed so trivial. After talking with them, I found that what I had assumed would motivate them (money) really was not their prime motivator. They were all into a “team” atmosphere and the caps and t-shirts gave them a sense of belonging. I should have known, as many of them actually wore the t-shirts to work on a regular basis.
I think this sense of “home” or “belonging” has tremendous impact on employees. If this element is missing from the workplace, negative talk and complaining will fill the void, creating an atmosphere of fear and resentment. So it’s important for management to carefully plan activities and events that will stimulate employee motivation.
I once worked as a sales manager for a small division of a very large corporation. I immediately noticed that absolutely no one felt at home or appreciated. In fact, the company had a habit of hiring over-qualified people for every position. The result was that these over-achievers each spent their time trying to justify their own existence by nit-picking every decision and discussing situations via endless email threads.
Their fear was that if they did not contribute to the discussion, they would be left out of the process. There was open warfare among senior management that sometimes broke out into arguments. This was not a model of employee motivation.
It came time for an off-site sales meeting and it was my turn to do the planning. I decided that these people needed to have some fun and get to know each other. The daytime schedule included the usual meetings and the unavoidable bickering. I had something very different planned for the evening, however— my idea of employee motivation! After dinner everyone met in a small ballroom for a party. They were all required to dress up in a 60’s theme costume. I find that people who are uncomfortable with each other will loosen up if they are in costume. I had hired a DJ with a karaoke machine. The DJ turned out to be perfect. He got everyone out on the dance floor with a bunny hop and that sort of broke the ice. Things started off slow with a few people dancing now and then.
The DJ introduced karaoke and told each of us to pick a song we wanted to sing from the menu and give him a card with our name and song selection. Well, no one wanted to do that so there was a stony silence as no cards came forth. This DJ was smart, however. He must have been a student of employee motivation! He quietly enlisted two women who were sitting together to start submitting cards with all the others’ names and song selections. When he read the cards aloud, no one could refuse to perform.
After the first few songs, everyone got into it. People were laughing and singing and dancing without being prodded. Soon there was a line forming to submit menu selections. The party went on and on into the night. At everyone’s request I had to extend the DJ’s time twice that night. The party was a definite success and worth every penny spent as employee motivation.
The next week, the whole atmosphere in the office changed. People were talking to one another in the halls instead of hiding in their cubicles writing email missives. Everyone remembered the party and had forgotten about the arguments in the meeting. I had many of the “troops” come up to me and tell me how much they had enjoyed the evening. They expressed astonishment that they really liked their colleagues. People started working together.
Unfortunately, the euphoria only lasted about a week and then the atmosphere went back to where it was. That’s because anything done for employee motivation must be supported by upper management and this wasn’t. In this case, the leaders were the problem.
Some managers feel that it’s important to keep their employees off-base, always wary and wondering where they stand. They think this approach will instill fear and that fear makes people work harder. Nothing can be further from the truth. This approach will always honor the law of self-fulfilling prophecy—what you expect to get, you will get. If this is your employee motivation technique, you will get employees who are off-base, wary and wondering.
Employee motivation has to be an on-going program that is supported by upper management and carried out with enthusiasm and sincerity by the entire management team. I don’t advocate throwing parties all the time, although in this case it was needed. I do advocate doing what it takes to make employees feel wanted, appreciated and at home. This is the greatest employee motivator of all.
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My name is Carolyn Jolly. My professional life has been in sales, marketing and IT management. Along the way I’ve been studying and experimenting with self improvement and personal development techniques for the past 20 years. I have had more than a few mind-blowing experiences and I’ve made some discoveries that have shaped my ideas. I’m now using this website to pass those ideas along.
Our world is changing very rapidly. Many of the constants and institutions we thought to be permanent are now crumbling or changing drastically. This website is dedicated to those interested in how to manage their lives in light of these changes or in just becoming a better person. I hope the information you find here will stimulate you to embark on your own voyage of motivation and self improvement.
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