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20 Simple Ways to Increase Motivation in the Workplace

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

Everyone has weeks where you check off everything on your to-do list with pleasure, and weeks where you’d really rather be anywhere but at work. 

A little daydreaming never hurt anyone. 🌴🍹

It’s totally normal for employees to face dips in motivation, but it becomes a problem when your colleagues are consistently disengaged. That's why we gathered some great tips from experts to help keep you and your team motivated, day in and day out.

These tips aren't specific to any industry, and most of them are either low or no-cost. They can be applied in small establishments, franchises, startups, and Fortune 500 companies.

Let's get started with one that has the potential to change everything: recognition.

1. Recognize great work

employees-recognizing-eachother

One of the most important factors that contribute to employee motivation is how often their hard work is recognized. 70% of employees say that motivation and morale would improve massively with increased recognition from managers.

After all, if an employee puts a lot of effort into a project to produce exceptional results but their hard work isn't recognized, why would they continue to be a high-performing employee? 

It's not just important to recognize great work. How you recognize your team's contributions has a significant impact. Employee recognition shouldn’t just an annual bonus at the end of the year—it should be meaningfully and frequently given.

Meghan M. Biro shared some excellent advice on effective recognition in a TalentCulture post. Here's one of my favorite tips:

Money is appropriate much of the time, but it’s not the onlyor even the most effectivemotivator. Treat employees as valued team members, not as numbers.

2. Set small, measurable goals

team-looking-at-charts-graphs

We've all had projects that just drag on and on, and seem to never end. It can be really demoralizing to be stuck in a rut, which is why seeing how you've made visible progress feels so good. It's also a clear indicator that our work is making a difference.

We met with Walter Chen, co-founder of iDoneThis, who shared some great insights into the importance of clear goal setting and tracking progress. You can check out full the interview here.

Setting clear, achievable goals provides a real boost of motivation each time one is conquered and keeps team on the right track. You can magnify these effects by taking the next step and celebrating those achievements.

3. Celebrate results

team-celebrating-results

Part of what makes setting small and measurable goals so important is that it provides plenty of opportunities to celebrate your team’s hard work.

This doesn't mean you need to give a standing ovation to every employee who made it to work on time, but it is crucial to let everyone know exactly how (and how much) much each of their contributions move the organization forward.

Be specific in your applause. Don't just tell Marie good job. Don't even stop at great job on the new email campaign. Applaud her success and when you do, tie her to the greater picture. For example: Great job on that new email campaign—it’s going to really grow our community and nurture our customer pipeline.

4. Stay positive

Let’s be real—we’re a little suspicious of people who are happy all the time. 🤖

Negative emotions have their place, and some really good process or cultural changes can stem from having tough conversations. However, it's important to find ways to inject positive experiences into your team's interactions to create a net positive workplace.

Why? Because it’s actually a competitive advantage to have happy employees. Research shows that happiness raises business productivity by 31% and sales by 37%.

 It turns out that happiness and positivity play a greater role in the success of your business than you'd ever imagine. If you're not fully convinced yet, take a moment to view this hilarious and fascinating presentation by psychologist Shawn Achor, explaining why:

A simple shift in bias toward positivity and happiness can have an immediate impact on your work experience and relationships, which are major factors in success, motivation, engagement, and productivity.

5. Stay fueled

It's hard to stay focused and driven when you're hangry. That's why it's so important for everyone to stay fed, hydrated, and in some cases, caffeinated. ☕️

Unfortunately, it's common for employees to become so busy engrossed in their work that they can barely squeeze in time for lunch. That's not great for their health and even worse for their productivity. Not convinced? Check out this great article from Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich wrote an outstanding piece on food's crucial role in employee wellbeing.

Keeping healthy snacks around the workplace is an easy way to help your team maintain energy levels throughout the day. The cost of providing them will likely be offset by your team's increased productivity.

If you don't have the time or resources to manage this on your own, there are some great services out there that can help you keep your office stocked with healthy snacks. Our friends at SnackNation will even drop a curated box of healthy snacks right at your company's front door. At Bonusly, we get a Fruit Guys delivery every week, which is a godsend when it’s 3 p.m. and you need some fuel to get through the rest of the day!

6. Take regular breaks

worker-daydreaming-about-beach

Banging your head against a problem for three hours is rarely productive. Stepping back and taking a moment to recalibrate isn't just helpful in staying motivated, it's also important to your health.

Sitting all day isn't good for you, and neither is working nonstop. Taking a short break every hour or two can have a positive effect on both your mind and body. Don't forget to get up from your desk and grab some fresh air!

Sitting all day isn't good for you, and neither is working nonstop. Taking a short break every hour or two can have a positive effect on both your mind and body. Get up, stretch your legs, rest your eyes—and come back to work with a refreshed mind and body.

7. Stay healthy

health-checklist

Which brings us to our next topic: staying healthy. As we learned in our interview with Button's Stephen Milbank, sharing is caring, but not if what you’re sharing is germs. 😷

When you’re ill, stay at home! It's unlikely that you'll be getting any of your best work done when you can hardly hold your head up, and not taking the time to rest will only prolong your sickness and prevent your body from recovering.

Make sure that the policies you're instituting aren't keeping people from taking the time they need to stay healthy. Think about the way you approach time off, medical benefits, and employee wellness. The stress and frustration from worrying about taking sick time leads to disengagement, and costs companies across the world billions of dollars each year.

A generous time-off policy or options for more flexible schedules might seem expensive at face value, but it can actually save your company quite a lot of money in lost productivity, poor attendance, and suboptimal engagement.

8. See and share the big picture

A large part of understanding the purpose behind your work is seeing how it fits into the larger picture. You can help boost motivation in the workplace by ensuring your team understands how each of their efforts impacts the organization, customers, and the community.

Completing a task usually provides a small sense of accomplishment, but knowing how that work helped others is the real antidote to disengagement.

Need more proof? Check out Zach Mercurio's talk on meaningful work: 

9. Be transparent

Every relationship, including work relationships, is built on trust. Defaulting to transparency is one of the best ways to encourage an atmosphere of trust amongst you and your team, and a team that trusts you will be more motivated and engaged with their work.

Transparency also helps ensure that everyone is working with the same information. That in itself can benefit the team.

Download the Motivation Manual

10. Provide clarity

In order to be motivated about your work, it’s crucial that you actually understand what your goals and objectives are. For many employees, that understanding starts with transparency, and ends with clarity. Without clarity, transparency begins to lose its effectiveness and motivational power.

Make sure you're giving everyone a very clear and concise mission they can get motivated about in the first place, because it's nearly impossible to invest genuine motivation into something you're unaware of, or confused about.

11. Envision and share positive outcomes

It's easier to achieve success when you can envision it. Professionals of all types, from athletes to musicians and CEOs, all practice this technique to improve their motivation. Luckily, if you're providing a clear objective, you're already more than halfway there. 

Help the team understand what it would mean to achieve that objective. When someone makes real progress toward that objective or outcome, share that progress as a source of motivation for everyone.

12. Find purpose

employees-looking-at-bullseye-target

Although it's commonly stated that millennial employees are motivated by purposeful work, that's really true of most employees. We met with Imperative's Arthur Woods, who explained why purpose is a vital factor in employee motivation, and how to help share and express that purpose.

Erica Dhawan echoed Arthur's advice in an article about motivation that she wrote for The Muse. She explains why it's so important to take time to explain the purpose behind the work you do:

Another key to staying motivated is knowing that the work you’re doing makes a difference in some way—recognizing the impact you’re making on your clients, company, or the world.

13. Loosen the reins

Autonomy and flexible work schedules are incredibly effective motivators. Giving employees more agency around when and how they get their work done can actually improve their efficiency, and help keep them motivated. 

In her article for Monster.com, Roberta Chinsky Matuson provides a great framework for getting started on the path of employee autonomy:

Tell your employees what needs to be done by what deadline; allow them to decide when they will do the actual work. For some, that may mean coming in early; for others that might involve working on the weekend.

The key here is that you're giving employees the freedom to work on their project when their motivation is strongest, not just when they're in the workplace.

Giving employees more control over their work also helps eliminate one of the worst enemies of motivation in the workplace: micromanagement.

14. Provide a sense of security

We're not talking about hiring a bouncer for your office (although you should make sure your employees feel safe at your workplace!). We’re talking about employees feeling secure enough to show their full selves at work. 

Psychological theory suggests that there is a hierarchy of basic needs that people require before they can be motivated to reach their full potential. Security falls right beneath physiological needs like food and water.

maslow

Once employees feel secure, they're more likely to be motivated to reach, and further stretch their potential.

15. Power pose

power-pose

Your posture not only says a lot about your motivation levels, it can actually impact them. Amy Cuddy gave an outstanding TED presentation about what your own body language can tell you, and how it affects your mood, your work, and your interactions with others.

Take a moment to think about your own posture, and the postures you're seeing around the workplace. What are they saying? If what they're saying isn't positive, try experimenting with different postures, and see how they impact your overall motivation.

16. Encourage teamwork

Teamwork is one of the greatest motivators out there. Knowing that your colleagues have your back and are your cheerleaders  is an amazing feeling. When your motivation dips, your teammates are right there with you, rooting for you as you complete your next project. 🎊

In their Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report, the TINYpulse team found that peers are the #1 factor in employees choosing to go the extra mile. In fact, employee happiness is much more closely correlated with peer relationships at work, rather than relationships with managers or supervisors. 

Think about how you're structuring your work environment: does it encourage teamwork, or does it limit interactions amongst employees? If you're not giving employees an opportunity to work cohesively, you're missing out on a huge opportunity.

There are many ways you can improve peer relationshipsone of which is peer recognition and rewards.

17. Offer small, consistent rewards

employees-with-gold-stars

Rewarding employees for their hard work is a motivational rule that nearly goes without saying. However, there are several ways to go about doing that, and some are more effective than others. 

Annual bonuses are a common way many employers reward employees for their hard work. Unfortunately, they don't often provide the motivation they're designed to. An annual bonus perceived as routine, disappointing, or unfair can even damage motivation in the workplace.

Providing smaller, more consistent rewards is a great way to boost motivation consistently over time.

Download the PDF 55 Creative Employee Reward Ideas

18. Change the scenery

Sometimes a small shift of scenery can provide a big shift in motivation. If it's possible, think about how the environment you and your team work in impacts motivation. If there aren't many sources of natural light coming in, it might be valuable to step outside together from time to time.

Spending even a few moments in different surroundings can provide a new perspective, and often a noticeable boost in motivation. Consider taking your team on an offsite or retreat, and notice how their spirits could lighten after a day working outside of the office.

19. Practice and promote mindfulness

meditating-at-workTaking time out of your day to slow down and practice mindfulness might sound like it would negatively impact productivity, but in many cases, the opposite is true. 

Many of us work in jobs where stress is a matter of course, but as the Harvard Business Review staff explains in their article Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity, "... stress is not a function of events; it’s a function of the view you take of events."

Embracing mindfulness at work can improve productivity and motivation by providing the perspective we need to see that.

20. Have fun

Not every task at work is going to feel like a day at Six Flags. That's OK. What's not OK is having a team that feels like every day is a slog. You don't need a ping pong table or a kegerator in your office to make work fun. Find little bits of fun in everyday activities, and focus on what it is that makes working in your organization great.

You and your team will be amazed at how motivating a little bit of fun can be.

Bravo, you made it through the list! 👏

It seems like you’re really motivated to improve motivation at your workplace. Your team is lucky to have someone who cares about them and wants to help them be more meaningfully engaged with their work. 😍

At the start of this list, I mentioned that 70% of employees believe that their motivation and morale would improve significantly if they received more recognition from their managers. The truth is, employee recognition doesn’t always have to be top-down in order to be motivating.

When you empower everyone on your team or in your organization to give each other frequent, timely, visible, specific, inclusive, and values-oriented recognition, those sparks of motivation can come from anywhere. To learn more about the impact peer-to-peer recognition can have on motivation and how you can facilitate it at your organization, don’t miss our Guide to Modern Employee Recognition: 

Get The Guide to Modern Employee Recognition

Originally published on January 13, 2016 → Last updated September 12, 2019

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George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.

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Bonusly is a fun, personal employee recognition and rewards program that helps people feel engaged and successful at work. ✨