6 tips to motivate employees

January 12, 2022

If you’ve been in a management position for any length of time, there’s a good chance you’ve worked with employees who appear unmotivated, might not be working up to their usual standards or seem completely uninterested in work.

Burnout and fatigue were rising trends among workers before the pandemic, and now, it could be even harder to feel connected to your team and keep employees engaged.

Addressing these issues can feel intimidating and complicated, but emotional and mental health are vital to productivity, engagement and retention, aside from general happiness. While no one expects bosses to become therapists, there are a few things you can do to motivate and engage your team – pandemic or not.

Understand the problem

Never assume you know why an employee is performing poorly, struggling or seems to be kind of checked out. Take time to understand any underlying issues or concerns from the employee’s perspective. Maybe your team member’s workload is overwhelming – or just the opposite and they don’t feel challenged. It could be your employee is unclear on their role and the expectations around it. And in this current environment, someone might be juggling a completely new remote work environment, family or kids at home, and simply navigating quarantine and a pandemic. First, build trust, then be direct and ask if there is anything bothering them. You may learn some reveal some underlying issues that can be addressed.

Timing is everything

Don’t have these conversations in an off-hand or tangential way, like when you’re wrapping up a meeting or a related topic comes up in conversation. Schedule dedicated, one-on-one time with that person. Put “mental health check-in” on the agenda for regular one-on-ones that might be happening. Be ready to have a two-way conversation that allows for your team member to shed light on the situation. And the key here is listening. Refrain from interrupting, getting defensive or becoming combative in any way. Make space for your employees to share their side of things and really take in what you hear.

Validate their concerns

If an employee feels they’re not in the right role, or that they lack the resources or support to do their job well, try to fully see what they’re seeing and let them know you’re hearing them. Simply acknowledging their struggles can make them feel more comfortable — and motivated — in their day-to-day tasks, even if you can’t immediately remedy the situation.

Be specific – and empathetic 

Whether you’re giving negative feedback (which is never easy to give or receive), or you’re trying to check in on how team members are coping in ongoing uncertainty, employees might take it personally or be skeptical. Share specific examples of how projects or results could have been better, and make it clear you care about your employee as a person and that you want them to excel. Show that you support your employee and are invested in their development — by bringing up specific examples of ambitions they have mentioned before — while also sharing expectations.

Move forward together

As you create next steps, outline clear objectives and necessary actions to meet those objectives. See if the employee needs extra training or resources that would help them perform better. Giving your employee a chance to take ownership of the situation is empowering and provides extra motivation to improve.

Follow up and recognize growth

Once you’ve formulated a plan, create a schedule to regularly check in on next steps. Make sure to recognize or reward any improvements and changes. Maybe they started blocking time on their calendar to complete tasks and avoid hours of email, or they’re able to establish consistent working hours to support mental health. Keep up with their progress and write a nice note, send a gift card or otherwise acknowledge their positive engagement.

These times are hard for everyone. Prioritizing empathy, patience and support now – and in the future – will help your employees engage with their work and stay motivated to do it well.  

Don’t let good employees get away. Check out 6 ways to stop employee turnover in its tracks

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