While keeping employees motivated is critical to running and growing a business, it doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition.
Employee motivation comes in many shapes and sizes, and even small gestures can go a long way, business consultants say. Below are five tips from experts on what it takes to foster a motivated—and productive—workforce.
1. Avoid a Cookie-Cutter Approach.
Holly Dary, director of permanent placement services at the Robert Half staffing office in Austin, TX, said keeping employees happy is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
“It’s important to understand what each employee is motivated by, whether it be praise or financial rewards, flexible scheduling, or training and growth opportunities,” Dary said. “You have to get to know your staff on a personal level.”
Dary suggested taking each employee to lunch on a regular basis, which will help in getting to know what makes each person tick, and how he or she likes to be acknowledged and rewarded. For example, Dary pointed out that some employees might like to receive praise in front of others, while others prefer not to be singled out and would rather receive accolades in private—or not at all.
“When you have this information, you can implement things that you know are applicable to them,” she said.
Debi Lerma is vice president and chief operating officer of self-storage operator Optivest Properties in Dana Point, CA. She said her company has learned that personalized efforts work best when it comes to employee engagement.
Although Optivest offers monetary incentives—employees can make 10 percent of the above-budget income that they bring in—some incentives are more subtle. Sometimes even just saying “good job,” either in person or in a handwritten note, can go a long way.
“Every employee is different—they have different needs while working for us,” Lerma said. “A couple of factors we found that our employees are motivated by are money, recognition, more responsibility and ability to display creativeness. Our overall goal is to them grow to be better people and employees.”
2. Stay in Touch.
Cheryl Cran, a leadership and change management expert at Synthesis at Work, said it’s important in small-business settings—where employees tend to work alone or in shifts with one or two other people—to keep in constant communication with employees.
“It’s about staying in daily touch through texts, phone calls or emails,” Cran said. “As the business owner, you need to let them know that you are there if you need them. If there is a lack of communication, the employee can tend to feel like they are on their own with no support, and that is not incentivizing.”
Cran suggested checking in with employees at least once a day, but being careful not to overdo it, as that might cause employees to feel like they’re being micromanaged.
3. Consider Small Gifts.
Both Cran and Dary said rewarding employees with gift cards—even in small denominations like $10—can have a huge effect on morale. Gift cards for coffee shops, movie theaters or restaurants are an easy, inexpensive pick-me-up for employees.
“It’s more about the attention and the way it’s delivered than the gift itself,” Cran said.
Dary, for example, carries a stack of $10 gift cards in her purse and hands them out whenever she sees an employee doing something that’s over and above the job description.
4. Provide Training.
Employees in a self-storage setting are the face of the facility, interacting regularly with customers. Providing them with training on customer service and leadership can offer a sense of ownership and keep them engaged.
Training doesn’t have to be formal. Cran said it can be something as simple as acting out customer scenarios and teaching employees how to handle certain situations.
5. Understand the Motivation.
Cran pointed out that many employees who choose to work in industries like self-storage might be “lone wolves” by nature and might prefer to do their jobs without fanfare. Acknowledging this can help employers understand that the best kind of motivation is sometimes just a paycheck.
Lerma said that can be the case at Optivest, where some employees are content to simply come in and do their jobs.
“We can normally tell what works for different employees immediately,” she said. “Trying to keep an equal playing field for motivating all of our employees can be difficult, but attainable. Some are self-motivated and do not require any tools from us; some do not respond to the tools at all.”
Better Engagement, Better Performance
Regardless of how it’s done, Dary said keeping employees satisfied requires an investment of time and money. Yet it’s a critical factor in running a successful business, especially when employees work long shifts alone or with only a few colleagues.
A recent survey by Robert Half’s Office Team division found that 61 percent of workers said they’d be likely to leave their jobs if they felt disengaged. Finding the most effective way to keep them engaged requires a tailored approach.
“An employee who is engaged always performs better,” Dary said. “And that is going to show up in how they interact with co-workers and customers. Keeping employees engaged will always yield a high return.”