keeping employees motivated: solutions to the continual struggle

By in Engagement and Talent Management
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The new year is well underway. As you dive into 2017, it’s likely you’ll be taking a closer look at your company and deciding how you can improve as an organisation. One of the first places to focus your energies is in the area of employee motivation. Keeping employees motivated at work is truly a constant battle for managers. In fact, a recent Gallup survey found that only thirteen percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work on a regular basis.  

Distractions are the common enemy of us all, and the all too familiar issue of failure to prioritise is no small beast and it frequently runs rampant in many companies. So with so many to-do items vying for your employees’ attention, how do you keep them consistently focused and motivated? It may not be as hard as you think. Below is a quick summary of the points covered in this article followed by a more in-depth explanation of those points.




You can improve employee motivation by enabling autonomy, encouraging communication, being positive, recognising effort and achievement, providing ample coaching and training, and encouraging employees to embrace failure.

  1. Enable Autonomy

Nothing kills employee motivation faster than micromanaging. If employees feel they have to be constantly babysat for their boss to feel comfortable, chances are very low that they’ll maintain the highest level of intrinsic motivation. If you can’t trust your employees to get their work done, why did you hire them in the first place? If you truly trust them to do good work, then show them! This doesn’t mean you don’t hold them to a high standard. In fact, it means exactly the opposite.

Set expectations first, and then let employees set their own schedule (as much as company guidelines permit) and watch as their level of productivity goes up. When employees feel the weight of personal responsibility, they begin to perform at a higher level. If you make job security contingent upon the quality and consistency of the work, you won’t have to worry about motivating employees.

  1. Encourage Communication

Communication is absolutely critical when it comes to motivating employees. It’s hard to feel motivated if you have no vision of what is expected. Let employees know what the company vision is, but also make them an integral part of shaping that vision. Gather the company around and talk about what you’ve achieved last year and welcome recommendations on goals for the upcoming year. In all you do, strive to encourage feedback and transparency from the top of your organisation all the way down to your entry-level employees.

Do all you can to make sure that senior leaders are accessible to all employees. Company parties can offer higher executives a great opportunity to mingle with employees in lower positions in the company. Obviously, the way interaction happens may vary depending on the size of your company, but striving to institute an open-door policy in the workplace will also help employees understand that they have a voice and that the leadership understands that their greatest asset is their people. When workers feel they’re being heard and that they make a difference, employee motivation soars.

  1. Be Positive

Happiness is contagious, and when senior leadership is smiling and laughing, the entire mood of the office begins to take on the same feeling. Work is tough, and there’s no dispute that there’s always something you can stress about. Remember, however, that no one wants to work with someone who is constantly frowning, whining, and complaining. And it should come as no surprise that negativity, frustration, and anger are never productive.

Even if employees are struggling or overall circumstances are not ideal, a simple smile and laugh can go a long way. Always maintain the attitude that every problem can be solved. Look for the good in your employees, and always assume the best. When everyone feels positive vibes from their superiors, employee motivation greatly improves.

  1. Recognise Effort and Achievement

We all have the basic human need to feel like we belong and are contributing to something greater than ourselves. Motivating employees starts with recognising the good they do and validating them for it. In fact, research found that 78 percent of employees are highly engaged when they experience strong recognition. It was also found that recognition impacts drive and determination, connection to the company, and work relationships at a rate of 2 to 1.

Recognition should be personal, genuine, meaningful, and regular. It’s really pretty simple: if an employee is doing a great job, take some extra time to let them know. Recognition could be as simple as sending an employee a personal thank you card, giving them a special spontaneous gift, or buying them their favourite candy bar. For bigger achievements, it could be as exotic as sending them on an extravagant cruise. Again, the most important thing is to show your employees that you not only appreciate their great work, but take time to reward them personally.

  1. Provide Ample Coaching and Training

Motivating employees means giving them the tools they need to succeed. Giving them just the right amount of coaching and training will provide the confidence they need. It’s much easier to be motivated to do your job when you know how to do it, and how to do it well. Employee motivation starts with a solid foundation, and that foundation can be found in brief, targeted, and effective training and coaching sessions.

But remember that coaching is something that should happen on a frequent basis. Managers should consistently provide positive feedback to their employees, stay in touch with the morale of their team, and truly come to know how each team member is motivated. It certainly takes a consistent effort, but coaching individuals according to their needs will have an enormously positive impact on employee motivation.

  1. Encourage Employees to Embrace Failure

It may sound counterintuitive, but encouraging your employees not only to be okay with failure, but to embrace it can help them progress and stay motivated. When fear of failure dominates your company’s culture, employee motivation takes a severe hit. Incorporating a culture that welcomes failure can be difficult, but it all starts from the top. If senior management is willing to take calculated risks, employees will in turn feel more freedom to do their job in a way that involves a little more spontaneity and ultimately helps the company.

Failure is rarely fatal, and it’s important to remember that the most successful people and businesses are the ones who fail multiple times. Why is failure important? Because it increases employee motivation by encouraging growth and eliminating complacency. There’s no quicker way to get complacent and unmotivated than to take no risks at all. It is, however, absolutely critical to make sure that your failures work to your advantage. When you learn and change as a result of failure, you can feel confident that you’re failing well.


As you begin striving to keep employees motivated, remember that finding the best method of motivating employees is an ongoing process that requires continual care and consideration. No two employees are exactly alike and what motivates one might not necessarily motivate the other. Experiment. Try different approaches. Remember to maintain a positive attitude and frequently ask your employees for feedback. The best forms of employee motivation come from the employees themselves. Now get motivated and start motivating!

By o.c. tanner
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