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Employee Motivation: Cracking the Employment Engagement Secret

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According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, employee engagement is defined as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” In a recent survey, only 33% are actively engaged in their work. The workforce is changing and to recruit and retain top talent, companies need to change as well.

Motivation Concepts


Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, business owners have searched for different ways to improve productivity. These theories of motivation and other studies led to a basis of understanding of what drives employees to perform and help managers understand reasons for decreased productivity.

Here are some tips to help with employee motivation:

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory – Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy to explain how people meet their needs through work. His theory suggests that people have certain needs and once those needs are met, we are motivated to satisfy other needs. The theory describes needs that begin with the most basic such as food and shelter. Then, our needs progress through stages of growth as people have higher needs. Right now, employees may need to earn good pay to meet their basic needs, but once those needs are met, they may have social needs or esteem needs. This could explain why constant communication with employees is important for understanding what motivates them.
  • Frederick Herzberg’s Motivation/Hygiene Theory – Under Herzberg’s theory, he found through research that there are two main factors that people take into consideration when they are motivated. Herzberg states that “What makes people happy is what they do or the way they’re used, and what makes people unhappy is the way they’re treated.” There are a set of factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction, while there are also set of factors that cause dissatisfaction. For example, poor policies give job dissatisfaction, while providing opportunities for advancement cause satisfaction. Adding responsibilities that provide opportunities for a landscaper performing at substandard level can result in improved performance if the poor performance is related to boring, repetitive tasks.

Studying different motivation concepts can help managers understand the reasons for decreased productivity. By studying different theories, you may be able to improve your small business, drive employee engagement, retain good employees, and increase productivity.


Why is motivation important?


In the past several years, employers have restructured their businesses to fit their changing needs and new, improved technologies have arrived at these companies. Because of all of these changes and how they affect workflow, employee expectations of what they would like in a company has changed.

If your employees are not engaged, productivity suffers, and customer service expectations are not met. Employees who do not like their job will only meet basic requirements. They may be actively looking for a new job and not focusing on their current one. Employees who are not engaged go to work and go home. They want and expect nothing more and just want to get through the day. They are not making any extra effort and this affects a company’s bottom line.

How do you know who is engaged at work?

Motivated and engaged employees share new ideas in meetings for product improvement, they work overtime without being asked when a big project is due, or they actively look for new ways to make their job or the company better. But most of all, engaged employees feel like the company in which they work is their company. They work to improve the company, improve productivity, and increase profits. If employees are engaged, then they will do whatever they need to do to make sure goals are achieved, even if it is not their job duty or in their job description. They will spread the message about the company to other people and tell everyone what a great job they have. They may share posts on social media and show up to work early. They are excited about their jobs. These are the employees you want for your small business.

Current employer satisfaction surveys are not working to find out if your employees are engaged at work. Surveys don’t necessarily ask the right questions and, many times, employees don’t feel like they can truthfully answer. Even in a healthy company where employee surveys are used in the correct way, many employees still fear giving honest responses for fear those responses will get back to management.

How do you find out what your employees want? By asking them. Your employees want feedback, but they also want to be able to give feedback in a way that prevents them from feeling like they will lose their job. Who in your company has this power to make an employee feel comfortable in an open and honest two-way communication without retaliation? Their manager.


Strong leadership is crucial for employee motivation

There is saying that states “A bad boss can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.” No matter how much your job pays or how good the benefits are, if you have a bad boss you just want to leave.

By creating a strong leadership team, you create a safe and happy place for your employees.

Some other statistics from this Gallup poll:

  • 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization.
  • 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future.
  • 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.
  • 51% of U.S. employees say they are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings.

[Learn how to keep your employees happy]

This poll and others show that even leaders and managers are not engaged. Strong leadership starts from the top and goes down and it drives employee engagement. If your leaders are engaged, they drive engagement in their departments. They inspire others to do great work, they promote and encourage others, and they look for continuous improvement within their department and other departments. This is why management training for new managers who have never led a department before should be required before the new manager begins to lead others.


To improve employee motivation change old ways


In addition to great managers, it’s time for companies to change. Not restructure, but change their tactics. If you are small business, now is the time to ensure you are hiring great people from the start. Ensure your new leaders are trained and ensure YOU are trained to become a great leader.

Besides leadership, here are some other ways to drive employee motivation:

  • Implement a remarkable performance review system. Drive open communication – not just an open-door policy. You should schedule time to sit down with your employees and find out what they want from an employer. Make changes to your performance review system and ensure you implement daily coaching sessions with your employees. If you can get your employees to talk to you about top concerns, then you are doing it right.
  • Offer flexible scheduling or work-from-home opportunities. If you have office employees, can some of their work be performed at home sometimes? If you have construction or landscaping employees, could you offer flexible scheduling for childcare needs? Whichever the case, find ways to implement flexible scheduling so that your employees feel like they have options. It’s important, however, that you communicate your company’s needs as well. Also, implement a mobile time clock app for your small business so your employees can clock in or out anywhere they are working.
  • Offer career progression. Every person within your company should have an opportunity for upward mobility. If you do not offer this in your company, your employees will eventually leave. Most employees do not want to stay in the same job for years and if they do, they want more challenges within that job because they get bored. They want career growth. Even in a small business, you probably have a plan to grow your company. Talk to your employees individually and find out where they would like to go and then figure out a succession plan together to make that happen.
  • Offer employee perks. Obviously, fun employee perks are not the only thing that can be used to motivate your employees. However, by creating a calendar of fun events or coming up with a list of ideas with employee input, you could find different, inexpensive ways to help drive motivation, make work fun, and increase employee engagement.


[Read 50 Ideas on How to Motivate Your Employees]

Great leadership is crucial to making sure your employee motivation is high. Invest in training programs for those who have never managed before. If time is a factor, research online training courses for your potential managers and start training them before they move into a leadership position. Also, ensure your processes, systems, and policies in your business are smart and make sense. You should take some time to read and understand different motivation concepts which can help you determine what is needed for your business as well. If you have good leaders and good business practices, productivity will increase and your bottom line will show those results.

Author: Kimberley Kay Travis

Kim Travis, co-owner of Travis and Adams Consulting Group, has over 20 years’ experience in human resources and leadership roles.
She has specialized knowledge in employment law, employee relations, recruiting, management consulting, leadership development, manufacturing safety programs, and writing business articles and blogs.


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