Series on Meaningfulness at Work: Motivating Employees

Most people think that the key to employee motivation is giving performance-based raises. People will work harder for an uptick in their monthly paycheck. But this common motivation tactic doesn’t actually do much, according to a Harvard Business Review article that detailed the findings of an analysis of 120 years of previous research. They found little correlation between pay and job satisfaction. One analysis cited found that incentives targeting extrinsic motivations actually had a negative impact on employees’ intrinsic motivation – and this was particularly true where job tasks are interesting rather than boring. More money does not equal more motivation.

Intrinsic motivators are the keys to success and improved engagement in the workplace. So here are a few simple ways to motivate your employees when raises and rewards fail:

Create a Culture of Respect – Studies have quantified the positive impact an atmosphere of consideration and respect has on stimulating creative output. Nothing saps energy or creativity like dreading having to work with someone who’s dismissive, short-tempered, or just plain mean. We’re all adults, and sometimes difficult conversations must be held. But that’s not license to treat people badly. Think of all the mental health days you’ll save because none of your employees have those days where they just can’t bear going into the office and having to deal with so-and-so.

Give People Their Time Away – Having said that, your employees don’t exist solely in the agency environment. They’re people with lives outside of work. An important way to treat them with kindness and respect is to show them that their work-life balance matters to you. Keep an eye out for employees who never take their vacation time. Insist that they do so. Carrying our work on our phones has its advantages, but it keeps us tethered to the office as well. Enforce stricter boundaries between work and personal time. Do your employees really need to reply to emails sent at 10 p.m.? What’s the underlying lapse that resulted in a 10 p.m. email anyway? Address that instead of expecting employees to be on call 24/7.

Mentor Them – Two years from now, few employees will want to keep doing the exact same work they’re doing now. Motivate employees by providing them unambiguous paths to grow professionally. Theoretical potential won’t do. This means constructive feedback on current work, as well as consistent opportunities to take on new tasks and projects. In addition, set aside budget to pay for employees to attend formal training and conferences, both online and in-person. Always promote from within wherever possible. If it’s not possible, that’s a big red flag that your staff isn’t getting the mentoring and growth opportunities they need. You need them to grow so your agency can continue to service ever higher quality clients, instead of having to react to high employee churn because they leave to find their opportunities elsewhere.

Leadership Matters – Implementing these motivation strategies requires a compatible agency culture. And culture starts with the agency leadership. According to a recent Gallup study measuring the engagement of 27 million employees all over the world, managers account for 70% of the variation of employee engagement. Clearly, no single factor determines the level of employees’ motivation more than their managers. Everyone reports to someone. Don’t expect your leadership team to be the employee-motivating managers you need them to be if you’re not providing the same.

Source: Jami Oetting, blog.hubspot.com

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