It was Abraham Lincoln who sagely professed: ‘You can never please all of the people, all of the time’; a sentiment that employers throughout the years have probably agreed with at some time or another. Keeping employees happy is no mean feat, but it’s vital for productivity, retention and competitive advantage. Little wonder, then, that it should remain a consistently high priority on business owners’ agendas.
Yet it needn’t be so relentlessly difficult to motivate and engage your staff. Here are a few considerations which, if successfully incorporated into your working practices, could really help the cause:
Let’s start at the very beginning…
Motivation and engagement can be created, shaped and encouraged right at the very start of an individual’s tenure. It begins by including all of the relevant information on the initial job advert, so as not to raise false hopes and expectations. It encompasses using the correct, fair recruitment processes to choose the right person for the job and the provision of a full company induction.
Some businesses go a step further at this stage, by placing a ’welcome’ card on the desk of the new starter, signed by all the team or even giving them a gift. You need not go quite that far, but certainly a team lunch is a thoroughly nice idea.
All of these elements combined help create a favourable impression of the company in the mind of the new employee, indicating that you already value them and cannot wait for them to be a part of the company. That favourable impression has a good chance of developing into a prolonged enthusiasm and sense of loyalty toward the company.
It’s not all about the money, money, money
It’s a common misconception that throwing money at employees will stop them moaning. Admittedly, financial reward does have its benefits but the effects can be extremely short-term. The truth of the matter is that money doesn’t drive most people; we are motivated by a range of different psychological factors. This is the point that employers need to remember – no matter whether they operate a multi-national conglomerate or are about to start a franchise with a head count of two: it’s not about the money.
Many theorists have written about this phenomenon which refers to the satisfaction of a human being’s basic needs. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these comprise self-actualisation, self-esteem, belonging, safety and physiology. Money can only meet the last two, in terms of providing shelter, food and water for our families. It doesn’t aid creativity, respect or friendship, which the other needs allude to.
Herzberg – another theorist – emphasises that money is a ‘dis-satisfier’ owing to the ‘unfairness of the wage system’. We need it to exist but it doesn’t increase self-esteem or job satisfaction. He says that most people’s primary motivator is actually recognition: praise, appreciation, a thank you for a job well done. Simple recognition allows employees to take pride in their work and understand that their contribution is worthwhile. This, it is argued, is what truly motivates employees. Therefore it’s key that you compliment and commend those that have performed well.
A little more conversation
A big part of feeling valued – and consequently, motivated – comes from being consulted and listened to with regard to work matters. Traditionally, communication has worked on a top-down basis, with updates and instructions cascading from the boss to their subordinates, possibly via a layer of middle managers. Nowadays thankfully, many companies have recognised the value in asking the ‘doers’ for their opinions and ideas, with the potential for feeding upwards. This can not only result in some streamlining, cost-saving improvements but can also really engage staff.
Talking on an individual level is also vitally important. Managers should try their hardest to hold regular 1:2:1s with their direct reports, in which employees should feel able to raise any issues, discuss their workload and talk about their own development. These meetings are important for motivation and engagement as they can help alleviate stress, elicit support and hint at career progression. They are also a chance for the manager to more discretely recognise the employee’s achievements, thereby satisfying one of their primary motivators.
The motivation and engagement of staff really shouldn’t be a hard task if you bear the above in mind. Essentially, it boils down to one key question: “how would I like to be treated?” Remember that and you shouldn’t go far wrong.