Every employee needs a “why” behind the work they’re doing. When employees work overtime to drive that “why” for their company, they’re engaged. But before employees can be engaged, they have to be motivated.
Understanding the distinction between engagement and motivation is important. Engaged employees are always motivated; but motivated employees aren’t always engaged.
While engagement is based on intrinsic motivation (i.e., employees complete their work without thinking about it, because they love what they do), getting employees motivated when they otherwise aren’t requires external action.
When it comes to motivating employees and—keeping them motivated—there are a few best practices employers can keep in mind.
Provide Employees Control Over Career Development
Not every employee will be motivated by performing the same task day in and day out, subscribing to a predetermined path. Giving employees control of their own career paths will allow them to seek out personal and professional development opportunities that will not only serve them in their current roles, but in future roles, too.
Encourage employees to learn about themselves and to figure out what motivates them individually. Exercises in professional development can help create employee self-awareness. The more self-aware employees are, the more focused their development activities will be. And as they continue to develop, so will their confidence.
When employees are confident, they’re motivated to keep going. That motivation will create business results, and that success will create more motivation for employees to continue to develop. It’s a positive cycle that not only benefits the individual, but the organization, too.
Recognize Employees’ Accomplishments
Rewards and recognition don’t always need to be reserved for big wins. In fact, consistent recognition for even tiny wins can boost motivation for employees. The solution? Each employee will want to be recognized differently.
Take the time to understand what motivates employees on an individual level. Managers can easily talk to their direct reports about how they like to be recognized and how often. Some employees will be motivated by words of affirmation, others may shy away from individual recognition and prefer to share it with others on a project team with an outing or group activity.
When employees’ efforts are validated, the more likely they are to continue to perform at a high level. And recognition doesn’t have to be just for daily assigned tasks or long-term projects. Managers can recognize employees for achieving the personal or professional development goals they set for themselves.
Ask Employees About Their Needs
The best way to motivate employees is to ask them what they need. Not every employee will be forthcoming about asking for help or what they need to feel motivated at work. By creating an open line of communication between managers and direct reports, wasted effort and confusion can easily be avoided.
Take advantage of behavioral or employee experience survey tools, team meetings, or one-on-ones to learn about employees’ preferences at the organizational, team, and individual levels. While it may seem like a daunting task at first, once the infrastructure to learn what motivates employees is in place, it can easily become a successful process with the occasional check-in.
Figuring out what motivates employees can be part of the onboarding process, too, with an intake survey or as part of the first one-on-one meeting with a manager.
At the organizational level, employees overall may be motivated by hearing more from leadership or having access to collaborative work spaces. Different teams may be motivated differently, too.
One team may be motivated by friendly competitions, while another may like a monthly team-building exercise. And for individuals, some may thrive in structured environments with lots of oversight, and others may need plenty of freedom to try new things.
No matter how the information is gathered, it’s important that employers take action on what they learn. If employees are asked about their needs, but then those needs aren’t accommodated, that becomes a force for demotivation. When their needs are met after they’ve explicitly outlined them, employees will feel valued and, in turn, even more motivated.
Motivation Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
Keeping employees consistently motivated means understanding their needs and providing them with the tools and opportunities they require to meet those needs. When employees feel their motivating needs are being met, they’re more likely to become engaged and drive the company mission forward. And a motivated, engaged workforce can only mean one thing: positive business results!