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50 Ideas on How to Motivate Your Employees

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Engaged employees are motivated employees. When they are engaged, they go above and beyond to help your small business succeed. There are many ways to motivate your employees.

A 2018 Gallup poll shows employee engagement is on the rise. 53% of employees are not engaged and 13% are actively disengaged. However, 34% of U.S. workers are engaged, tying highest in Gallup’s history. 

What Motivates Employees

How do you motivate people when over half of them are not engaged in the workplace? Dan Pink, author of Drive states that employees are not driven by more money but by a sense of purpose and the ability to make a difference. 

He states in one of his TED talks that research has shown “as long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected, but once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill a larger reward led to poorer performance”. He goes on further and says management doesn’t work, self-direct works better.

Dan emphasizes that there should be three elements of a business operating system: 

  • Autonomy- people want to direct their own lives
  • Mastery- the desire to learn and get better at something 
  • Purpose- the yearning for us to serve something that is larger than ourselves. 

If you provide all three elements in your business environment, your employees will be more driven to do an outstanding job, and the best part it doesn’t cost you a cent!


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To build a great culture and keep the best people you need to attract the best. Glassdoor surveys show that nearly 3 in 5 (57%) people report benefits and perks being among their top considerations before accepting a job, while 4 in 5 people also say they would prefer new perks over a pay raise. Also, most employees value benefits and rewards when making job decisions and determining which companies may be a great fit for them. 

Furthermore, according to the 2018 Gallup Talent Trends poll, employees want permanent workplace flexibility, a commitment to health and well-being, and they want a purpose for the work they do. 

For health and well-being, it includes an emphasis on physical, psychological and financial wellness.

Now more than ever, employees want to know that what they do contributes to the business. When they know they are working with a purpose, employee motivation, productivity, morale, and overall job satisfaction increases.  According to the survey, thriving employees are three times more likely to work for a company with a strong sense of purpose. 

Business Examples to Motivate Workers

Various companies have tried different approaches to increase employee engagement. Zappos, for example, is famous for its fun culture where customer centric values are combined with a fun work environment. At Zappos, the customer service workers do not work from a script. They are encouraged to use their imagination to make customers happy. Also, they do not have to ask permission from a boss to give their customers the wow factor. For example, they can send flowers to an angry customer to win them back without the need for manager approval. With over 75% of sales from repeat customers, their plan is succeeding. Read here for more information about Zappos culture. 

Other business examples: Pivotal has a unique culture where having happy employees is one of their core values. To ensure happiness they hire a Happiness Director at every location. They hold events such as a food truck rally, pumpkin decorating contest, and rock paper scissors tournaments.

REI encourages its employees to get outside by offering two paid days off, called “Yay Days”, a year to enjoy their favorite outside activity. Twilio offers employees a Kindle plus $30 a month to purchase books. 2HB offers a $50 grooming perk each month. Employees can use it for a mani, pedi, or just getting a nice hair cut to gain that extra confidence boost.

Small Businesses Have More Flexibility

Being an owner of a small business, you may not have the revenue that Zappos or other large companies enjoy, but what you have is a lot of flexibility. Furthermore, being able to customize the work environment to the needs of your employees and to know your employees on a personal level is a huge advantage you have over large businesses. This helps motivate your employees. 

Build a culture where everyone’s voice is heard and respected. Where any employee, no matter what their title, has a say. Also, allow them the freedom to make certain decisions to build ownership and pride. This will not just help with employee engagement but also with sales and customer retention.

You might not be able to afford major benefits to attract workers to your company like health care or retirement plans. However, there are some low-cost benefits and you could also try to add some rewards for your workers to help motivate them. For example, there are simple things like letting employees go home early during the holidays or providing flexible hours can be a huge morale boost to your workers.

A List of Great Ideas to Improve Engagement

Here is a list of ideas to improve engagement:

  1. If you have minimum wage employees offer a one-week pay advance. This helps to prevent employees from falling into a payday loan cycle.
  2. Offer vacation cash-out options.
  3. Encourage employees to speak up.
  4. Empower your employees to make inexpensive decisions without the need for management approval. 
  5. Hire from the inside first.
  6. Involve your employees in the hiring process.
  7. Have a day every quarter where management cooks a big dinner/lunch for employees.
  8. Organize 2 annual parties, one for the holidays and one for summer such as a family picnic.
  9. Bring breakfast, coffee from your favorite cafe, or a free lunch one day a week to the office.
  10. Host a team fun event like a board game or karaoke event.
  11. Organize contests like a pumpkin decorating contest, a rock paper scissors tournament, or an identify baby photo contest or cookie decorating contest.
  12. Host a happy hour event once a week/month. Have it around 4pm either at the office or at a nearby bar for those employees who don’t want to stay late at work for social events.
  13. Host an ice cream social event at the office.
  14. Approve early release on Fridays or a certain time of the year when business is slow.
  15. Offer flexible hours.
  16. Offer work from home day.
  17. Provide performance reviews and feedback on a regular basis.
  18. Offer a 13-month payment cycle. The 13th month comes as a lump sum.
  19. Match charity donations to qualified charities.
  20. Offer paid day off to do community service once or twice a year as a group or employees can pick individual causes.
  21. Sponsor a charitable event.
  22. Host charity workshops.
  23. Give everyone a quality ergonomics chair.
  24. Have rules where employees do not need to get permission to go to the doctor or pick up their kids.
  25. Offer three weeks paid vacation to start or unlimited vacation regulated by the work due.
  26. No requirement to work outside of working hours. Also, encourage workers to not check email after hours. 
  27. If employees have a sick child or spouse, they can take time off up to a certain time without burning PTO.
  28. Provide unlimited beverages at the office.
  29. Bring in a massage therapist and offer free chair massages.
  30. Provide yoga classes at the office.
  31. Free gym membership at a nearby gym.
  32. Encourage employee sport team events (soccer, baseball).
  33. Offer continuous personal growth. Pay for financial classes to help employees manage their money better and avoid payday loans.
  34. Bring in a motivation speaker every month or every quarter.
  35. Offer training/team building workshops.
  36. Encourage intrapreneurs. Reward employees with the ability to come up with and fund ideas for company growth.
  37. Provide free healthy snacks at the office. For example, companies like Snack Nation help deliver healthy snacks to your office.
  38. Celebrate personal milestones (new baby, graduation, bday).
  39. Allow pets at work.
  40. Do an employee’s job for a day. “Boss Does Your Chores” (e.g., dealing with customer complaints, take the trash out).
  41. Serve as a mentor to the employees.
  42. Provide parental leave and adoption assistance.
  43. Make every month or day a fun holiday theme day. For example, here is a fun holiday list. 
  44. Celebrate a goal that you accomplish as a team not as an individual.
  45. Bring food trucks to the office. Also, If you are a small office, check if you can partner with other nearby businesses.
  46. Give your team gift cards to movie theaters or local restaurants. Provide these as a thank you for a job well done or if a customer compliments an employee.
  47. Offer Spotify music monthly membership or $30/month to purchase books on Kindle.
  48. Give discounts to your product or service (e.g., free food if you are an owner of a restaurant or 30% off of clothes for retail shop owners).
  49. Offer $50-$100 grooming perk each month. 
  50. Have a dress theme day like flannel Friday.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to drive engagement and motivate your employees. You don’t have to do all of them but pick the ones that are the most important. Also, offering flexibility and other perks can really motivate your workers. They will see your business as a fun place to work too. Furthermore, research ideas and look at bringing in a wellness plan to your business. Many times, these services don’t cost you much and it gives an employee an opportunity to enroll in services they may need such as financial counseling. Make sure they know their contributions are important to the company. Develop a list of perks you would like to offer and put it in your annual goals to help motivate your employees. Happy employees will do anything to make your business succeed. 



Author: Raya Khashab

Raya is the CEO and co-founder of ezClocker. She is passionate about customers and building products that change the way people run their business. She is also a big supporter of the startup community and helping people achieve their dreams.