Key learning outcomes:

  • Understand that motivating your team will convert to greater profitability and job satisfaction.
  • Adopt strategies to improve employee motivation, such as introducing reward/recognition programs and offering flexible work schedules.
  • Create a transparent and positive environment, such as responding to feedback and engaging in charitable programs.
  • Acknowledge and support employees’ goals and dreams.


Motivation is essentially the reason or motive for our actions and behaviours. A motive prompts a person to act in a certain way; for example, hunger prompts us to eat. There are many theories and studies on motivation, and what motivates one person might not motivate another. To be a successful leader, being able to motivate those around you is essential. Research has shown that having employees who are motivated to perform at a high standard will directly translate to high levels of productivity and profitability. We have compiled the following list of the top 10 ways to motivate employees as a guide for those seeking to boost levels of motivation in their business.

1. Create a pleasant work environment

It makes sense that people are more motivated when they have a pleasant work environment. We do not think that you need to go to the extremes of companies such as Pixar, Google and Lego. But one quick look at their offices and you can see why these companies are voted some of the best to work for year after year.

Take a look around your workspace to see if there are any improvements that you can make. Does everyone have enough light? Working in a dark place can cause depression and is demotivating. Are there any opportunities to brighten the environment with artwork or even motivational posters? If you are a retail operation, is there adequate storage space or a place for employees to have a break or private meeting? If you are an office, are workstations comfortable and well equipped?

You may find that a minor upgrade of the work environment will result in higher employee motivation levels. If possible, involve your employees in discussions about the changes you are considering. In many successful companies, employees are able to decorate their own spaces allowing them to feel at home and comfortable while they work.

2. Organise social activities

Successful businesses understand that having fun is a great motivator. Look to add some planned social activities every day, week or month. Not surprisingly, the most effective activities are not those that cost a lot or involve alcohol and late nights, but those that encourage active participation.

One successful activity we have been involved with is breakfast or lunch provided by a different department of the business on a monthly rotational basis.  Each department chose a theme and provided the food for the entire staff. This created some fun and healthy competition to see who could come up with the best ideas.

3. Introduce reward and recognition

You will find a number of articles in the “People Management” section of our website that relate to reward and recognition. Having a structured reward and recognition program will lift your employees’ motivation levels and improve your bottom line. The important thing to remember is that rewards do not have to be about money; in fact, a simple thank you for a job well done is number one on the list of key motivators.

Add some surprise to your recognition program; a handwritten post-it note left on someone’s computer screen while they are away from their desk will be sure to put a smile on their face and a spring in their step. Use team meetings as an opportunity to acknowledge the work of individuals and groups.

If showing your employees appreciation is part of your everyday actions, you will soon find that you have a workforce that strives to perform at their best.

4. Demonstrate flexibility

There is no denying that life is now moving at a faster pace and everyone is getting busier. This means that people tend to value time above most other things in their lives. Giving your employees some flexibility in their working schedule can enhance motivation. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, look to find ways to tailor schedules to individual needs. For example, you may have someone who regularly strikes bad traffic on their commute to work, so starting and finishing later to miss peak hour may reduce their stress and in turn increase motivation. Other options might be to offer a nine-day fortnight, flexitime or opportunities to work from home.

5. Get personal

Adding a personal touch to your leadership style has clear benefits for employee engagement and motivation. Getting to know employees as individuals and taking an interest in their personal lives shows that you value them beyond the work that they do. Our article “Management by Walking Around” outlines a simple but highly effective technique used by some of the most successful business leaders. It shows how informally spending time with individual employees can lift motivation.

One-on-one coaching is also one of the most valuable techniques for improving employees’ motivation levels. Our article “One-on-One Coaching” provides you with a guide to implementing a successful coaching program for your business. Conducted as a formal program, one-on-one coaching allows you to tap into what drives and motivates each individual.

6. Ask and act

People are more motivated if they are able to contribute to their own working environment and conditions. By asking for feedback, you are encouraging commitment to the business’s success. The most important thing is to ensure that you respond and act on all suggestions and ideas. The process of seeking feedback is detrimental to motivation levels if employees feel that their words fall on deaf ears.

Of course not every idea can be put into action; however, every idea and suggestion can be acknowledged and discussed. By opening up lines of communication and allowing employees to be creative and solution-driven, the benefits become twofold: higher motivation levels and the generation of new ideas. If employees are actively involved in discussions and decisions about moving ideas forward, they also become more aware and considerate of constraints such as the budget.

7. Work in teams

It is proven that people are more motivated and effective when working in teams. It is an innate need in all humans to want to belong, and working closely together helps to meet that need. Even if most of your work is completed on an individual basis, try to look for opportunities to form teams for special projects or to get people to work together towards a common goal. For example, the leader of a group of sales executives usually work for, and are remunerated on, an individual result; however, by setting a group target or incentive you will build motivation as the executives will feel they are part of a larger team.

8. Provide transparency

Many business owners like to keep the accounts and figures very close to their chest. However, opening up the books and creating a level of transparency around business performance will increase employees’ motivation levels. When employees understand the bigger picture they feel that they have an added responsibility to contribute to the success of the business. In many instances when businesses are transparent about expenses and profit, employees feel empowered and will actively work towards a stronger bottom-line result. Employees of companies that operate staff profit-sharing schemes are committed to achieving a higher performance level.

9. Create a giving culture

Studies have shown that employees are more motivated working for businesses that give something back to the community. Many large companies run charity programs where employees are given the option of additional paid leave to do volunteer work. Additionally, many businesses, large and small, donate a percentage of their income to a particular charity and this can foster goodwill among employees. It has been demonstrated that doing good can lift employee morale.

Look for opportunities to get your employees to band together for a good cause. A simple idea might be to collect toys at Christmas to be delivered to the Red Cross or Salvation Army for children in need. We know a number of businesses that give employees the option to have a small amount deducted from their wages each week to contribute to a larger donation for a specific charity. It is important to remember that you do not want to put any expectation or added stress on employees by insisting on participation. Giving time, money or otherwise must be voluntary.

10. Build futures

Working towards goals is a motivating factor for employees. It is important that you show support for the long-term goals and dreams of the people that work for you. By actively helping them move towards their desired future, you will ensure higher levels of motivation and productivity. For many small businesses the future may be beyond their scope, and moving towards the goal may mean that the employee eventually needs to move on. This should not be seen as a negative but as a positive attribute for the business. Not only will the person be more motivated and dedicated while working towards their next step, it will also make your business a more attractive option for new recruits.

As a business leader your level of success is often dependent on those around you performing at their best. The more skilled you are at motivating others, the greater the benefit for you and your business. Use these tips along with our other learning articles on “motivation” and “leadership” to build on your skills.

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