Motivating employees should be high on a supervisor’s to-do list. Too often, though, what’s tried falls flat.
Not every employee needs or wants:
A go-team pep talk
Artery-clogging donuts at staff meetings
Certificates for weekly productivity achievements
Public praise for a job well done (Many dread this)
Brown bag lunches with the boss
That said, employees do want and need reasons to stay motivated.
No easy formula
One-size-fits-all motivational techniques either don’t work or don’t last. They assume that each employee works based on the same drivers.
Motivation is a function of aspiration. If you don’t know what your employees want from their careers, then you can’t tailor motivators to fit them.
There are two ways to figure out how to motivate employees:
Ask them what gets them energized to do more
Watch how they work, taking note of what gets them going or stalls them
Once you know what motivates each employee, tailor your actions to their needs.
Take mental snapshots of your employees when they’re in gear and when they’re not. Think about what you can do to help and then take action like in these scenarios:
1. Mary is a staff engineer in a mostly male work group. She gets bogged down in the details when given repetitive assignments but becomes highly engaged when working on a team. That changes, though, when she gets the notion that her ideas aren’t being fully considered. If that happens, she disengages and becomes despondent.
Watching Mary work offers a clue to what motivates her—work that provides her with visibility and recognition. When those aspects are absent, she loses energy and interest. One remedy is to schedule opportunities for Mary to showcase the results of her routine work and periodically assign her to be a team leader.
2. Brian is a crackerjack IT troubleshooter, interacting with coworkers at every level, answering user questions, fixing glitches, and installing new software. He’s considered humorless and indifferent by some, cavalier and impatient by others, only when the workload gets overwhelming and coworkers are impatient.
Observations of Brian reveal changes in him when under stress. Instead of coming across as energized and enthusiastic about providing these expert services as usual, he comes across as resentful. Just like us, Brian has a stress threshold that, when reached, brings out negative reactions and attitudes. To keep Brian motivated, his supervisor needs to keep tabs on his workload and the conditions driving it. A weekly conversation with Brian on ways to manage his workload can become a strong motivator.
3. Martha, a physical therapist, was promoted to manager of a hospital-based exercise center. Her responsibilities include scheduling, recordkeeping, supervising professional staff, equipment maintenance and purchases. Her workday is full but not always fulfilling. She often stops to watch wistfully the client care being given.
Martha was promoted because of her technical capabilities and commitment. She’s wired to do an exceptional job no matter what. Although motivated to excel as manager, she misses those one-on-one caring interactions that she left behind and very likely is concerned that her skills will erode. Her manager can fix this by scheduling Martha to fill in for physical therapists when they’re out or by assigning a limited number of clients to her schedule and delegating some administrative duties.
The price paid
Poor motivation is contagious. Other employees catch it easily. When it becomes epidemic, productivity and quality suffer.
Low motivation among employees is a drag on the collective energy of the work group. It gives employees an excuse for not giving their best effort, fully participating in teamwork, delivering on their commitments, and believing that they have a future with the organization.
Remember the last time you felt unmotivated? Did your supervisor help pull you out of it? That’s a big part of a supervisor’s job. It’s important to pay attention to the motivational needs of your employees and give each one the unique support they need. Time to get motivated to motivate.