Everyone faces a dip in motivation now and then, and consistently maintaining high levels motivation in the workplace can be challenging. 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, local establishments; franchises; early-stage startups; and Fortune 500 companies.
Let's get started with one that has the potential to change everything: recognition.
1. Recognize great work
One of the most important factors in employee motivation is how often their hard work is recognized.
If an employee continues to expend discretionary effort to produce exceptional results, and that effort isn't recognized, don't expect it to keep happening.
It's not just important to recognize great work — how you recognize your team's contributions has a significant impact. An annual bonus at the end of the year isn't likely to do the trick.
Meghan M. Biro shared some excellent advice on how to make the recognition you give more effective in a recent TalentCulture post. Here's one of my favorite tips she mentioned:
Money is appropriate much of the time, but it’s not the only — or even the most effective — motivator. Treat employees as valued team members, not as numbers.
2. Set small, measurable goals
It can be incredibly demoralizing to work on a project that seems like it will never end. Visible progress not only feels 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 the interview here.
Setting clear, achievable goals provides a real boost of motivation each time one is conquered. You can magnify that effect by taking the next step, and celebrating those achievements.
3. Applaud results
Part of what makes setting small and measurable goals so important is that it provides plenty of opportunities to applaud the results of 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 that hotfix you deployed. Applaud her success and when you do, tie her to the greater picture. For example: Great job on that hotfix you added — it's dramatically reduced the number of website errors, and that makes a huge difference in how customers experience our service.
4. Stay positive
Nobody likes having a conversation about how poorly they've done. It's true that expecting nothing but rainbows and sunshine all day every day is a bit unrealistic, but even those of us with "thick skin" have a tolerance threshold for negativity.
The good news is that it's just as easy, perhaps even easier to provide direction via positive reinforcement. Instead of telling a teammate where they went wrong, focus on the things they did right.
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 low on fuel. That's why it's so important for everyone to stay fed. Unfortunately, it's common for employees to become so busy engrossed in their work that they either forget or forego breakfast, and even lunch. That's not great for their health, and even worse for their productivity.
Buffer's co-founder Leo Widrich wrote an outstanding piece on food's crucial role in employee wellbeing, and even productivity.
So how do you solve this one?
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 the 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.
6. Take regular breaks
You can't expect to maintain workplace motivation when everyone's burned out — that's why it's so important to take regular breaks. Stepping back and taking a moment to refresh and 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 even a five minute break every hour or two can have a positive effect on both your mind and body.
Courtney Seiter wrote an outstanding article on the Buffer blog detailing scientific evidence behind the importance of taking breaks. In the article, she explains:
When you’re really in the groove of a task or project, the ideas are flowing and you feel great. But it doesn’t last forever—stretch yourself just a bit beyond that productivity zone and you might feel unfocused, zoned out or even irritable.
Taking breaks are crucial to avoiding that effect, and Courtney offered some great examples of how to fit these all-important elements into our workday.
7. Stay healthy
Which brings us to our next topic: staying healthy. As we learned in our interview with Button's Stephen Milbank, Nothing is worse than when an employee forces themselves to come into work when they're sick, and gets everyone else sick.
It's highly unlikely that you'll be getting any of your best work done when you can hardly hold your head up anyway.
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 and medical benefits. Disengagement and lack of motivation cost companies across the world billions of dollars each year.
A generous time off policy might seem expensive at face value, but actually save your company a lot of money in lost productivity, poor attendance, and 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, and you can help boost motivation in the workplace by ensuring your team understands how each of their efforts impacts the larger goals of your organization.
Completing one task provides a sense of accomplishment that generally boosts motivation, but seeing how that work helped the company grow can multiply the effect.
9. Be transparent
Every relationship, including any work relationship, 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.
Trust isn't the only benefit of transparency though. It also helps ensure that everyone is working with the same information. That in itself can benefit the team. In a piece she wrote recently, HR expert Susan Heathfield explained why it's important that you "communicate responsibly and effectively any information employees need to perform their jobs most effectively."
10. Provide clarity
It's crucial to understand the goals you're after in order to be motivated to achieve them. 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
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 is an incredibly effective motivator. 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
I'm not talking about adding CCTV cameras to the common area. I'm talking about a sense of personal security employees value, like security that next week, they'll still have a place to 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.
Once employees feel secure, they're more likely to be motivated to reach, and further stretch their potential.
15. 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. Pulling together, seeing everyone's hard work and yours coming together is an amazing feeling. When your motivation is flagging, your teammate is right there to help carry you past that point into your next piece of great work.
In their 2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report, the TINYpulse team found that peers are the #1 factor in employees choosing to go the extra mile.
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 relationships — one of which is peer-to-peer recognition and rewards.
17. Offer small, consistent rewards
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 their employees for their hard work. Unfortunately, they don't often provide the motivation they're designed to. An annual bonus perceived as 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.
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.
19. Practice and promote mindfulness
Taking 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.
You can get started on improving motivation in your workplace with any of these suggestions, and develop your own as well.
Ready to take motivation and engagement to the next level?