5 Ways to Motivate Your Staff

If you want to motivate your staff, give or promise them something of value, and then follow through on your promise.

If you want to motivate your staff, give or promise them something of value, and then follow through on your promise.

There’s no shortage of scholarly research that shows that people generally respond better to positive reinforcement. There may be a place for negativity – threats and punishment – but I personally don’t know of any long-term success stories based on threats and punishment.

One of my first experiences in this area was in the mid-80s, the golden age of the desktop computer. At the non-profit where I was operations director, I was the fellow who purchased, installed, and maintained the computers. When the job got too big for me to handle on top of my regular duties, I got permission to hire a dedicated computer person,

Rather than hire from the outside, though, I posted the job internally. None of the applicants was well-qualified, but I hired a fellow with a bucketload of good attitude from the shipping department and sent him to school. Gerry’s still in the computer field today, and you can imagine how he’s doing with a quarter century in the field.

Opportunities to motivate your staff by promoting from within generally don’t come along too often, so when they do, you should make the most of them. There are other ways to motivate people, though.

1. Treat them well.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but too many of us are familiar with the management-by-terror paradigm, in which managers browbeat, intimidate, and generally abuse their subordinates. This may produce short-term results, but it also produces long-term resentment. The Golden Rule really works.

Likewise, avoid threats – it’s kind of like mentioning “divorce” to your spouse. You may be trying just to make an impression and not intend to take it any farther, but it cannot be un-said. Only tell an employee that her job is on the line if it really is and you can afford to lose her, because you may motivate her to go right out and start testing the waters.

2. Give them interesting jobs and assignments that employ their skills and talents whenever possible.

Promoting Gerry surely motivated him, but it also caught the attention of everyone in the organization. Some department heads started alerting their staffs to upcoming projects and encouraged them to compete for the assignments.

3. Reward superior work.

The two most popular things of value that you can give staff who go above and beyond are time and money. Extra paid time off granted at the successful completion of a major project, for instance, is a great incentive that should also motivate employees on the next project. Let them take the time on their schedule, though, not yours. This will help you help your staff to maintain that work-life balance we hear so much about, especially if the project entailed many late nights at the office.

Another highly appreciated reward is money, or its equivalent.

This includes bonuses, cash cards, gift certificates, prepaid travel, and the like. Be careful, though – in some jurisdictions, such rewards carry income tax liability. Be a mensch and cover the taxes – your payroll department knows how to do this. The more closely something resembles cash, like a prepaid cash card, the more highly it is prized than something whose use is more limited, like a restaurant gift card or tickets to a tractor-pull.

4. Think outside the box for non-cash incentives that have real value.

When I was HR director at a vitamin factory, we recognized an employee of the month, every month, and we’d hold a brief, impromptu ceremony in the employee’s department, interrupting their work for just a few moments. The employee was written up in the company newsletter, but more importantly, got a prepaid cash card, enough for a nice dinner for two, as well as the parking spot nearest the employee entrance for the next month. Especially in the wintertime, that spot was highly coveted!

For staff who travel a lot, allowing them to keep their frequent flyer miles gives them a tax-free benefit, relieves you of having to account for them, and can motivate staff to volunteer for those out-of-town assignments.

5. Give them recognition.

This is last on the list for a reason. By and large, the people who work for you do so for the paycheck, not a pat on the back. On the other hand, a private or public “attaboy” from time to time can work wonders. When we recognized our employee of the month, for instance, we did so in front of his or her colleagues.

Of course, some of these motivation tactics – promised rewards for exceptional accomplishment – involve compensation above and beyond your employees’ regular pay, and should be reserved for work that is itself above and beyond what’s expected of them. Jobs that are successfully completed on time generally don’t justify an extra reward.

Written By

Dale Marshall

Human Resources Manager.