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Motivating staff 

Motivating employees is an area that can be both challenging and difficult.  A common myth is that what motivates one person is sure to motivate another.  This is in fact not the case!  An employer's greatest challenge is to work with employees to weave their individual needs and interests, such as career aspirations and individual learning goals, with the needs of the business such as achieving high performance and positive results.

What are the primary motivators for employees? 

Flexible working hours, time off for personal or family responsibilities, and greater decision-making responsibilities may hold more appeal than cash incentives. For example, young workers may value flexibility and personal independence over monetary bonuses.

While such 'non-material' incentives may cost less than a higher pay, they will probably require a greater investment in terms of time and energy from the employer. However, the benefits are substantial. Employees will value the fact that their employer recognises their needs and satisfactorily rewards their efforts. In turn, the employer can significantly increase profitability by retaining experienced, motivated and productive staff.

A number of factors are at work in motivating employees to perform.  It's usually not enough for a manager to focus on one area and hope that performance increases as a result.  As a manager, one of the most helpful things that can be done is to ask employees what it is that motivates them in their job.  For some money will be the most influential motivator, for others it may be the sense of a job well done. 

Here are some common motivators of staff:

  • working conditions
  • interesting work
  • appreciation/recognition
  • constructive feedback
  • training
  • money
  • regular, open communication
  • loyalty (for the employer)
  • promotion
  • flexible working arrangements
  • job security

Motiviating employees doesn't always have to involve financial rewards - an employer who recognises the good work done by his or her employees will have a motivated, productive workforce.

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Why are expectations changing? 

There has been a movement away from long term employment periods which is prompting employees to re-evaluate their expectations and priorities at work. Employees are focusing on skill development and taking control of their careers. Employees now expect to be rewarded for successfully applying their skills and making a positive contribution to the performance and profitability of the business.

Employers who fail to recognise this changing nature of the workforce run the risk of alienating or losing their workforce, resulting in a high staff turnover and staff costs.

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What sort of methods should an employer consider? 

Retention, rewards and recognition have been identified as the three 'R's' of successful staff management. By implementing initiatives based on these key concepts, employers can enhance business performance and enjoy the benefits to be gained from a motivated and productive workforce.

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Motivate through consultation 

Meet with employees to identify appropriate methods. This might be a regular part of staff meetings for a few weeks or part of business planning activities with staff. Discuss the following topics:

  • training and development
  • social interaction
  • work environment
  • remuneration and benefits
  • communication

Some initiatives other small businesses have introduced include:

  • appraisal feedback through individual training development programs
  • tuition assistance policy, which provides a grant plus text book allowance to employees undertaking work-related studies
  • personality profiles to identify specific training needs
  • evening social functions, particularly dinners to celebrate achieving and exceeding targets
  • closing the office for recreation days to allow the company to say 'thank you' with trips to theme parks or staff sports days
  • a vision day, where staff from different departments are put into teams to gain a better understanding of the work done in other areas.

See what the employees of the business can come up with.

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Applying these principles in a workplace 

By adopting strategies to retain, reward and recognise the employees of a business, the employer/manager can make a positive contribution to overall business performance. These methods may include:

Opportunity for advancement - Replacing the promotion ladder with new roles, stimulating work and other opportunities for individual growth.

Challenging and interesting work - Providing growth opportunities by presenting employees with challenging assignments and providing the necessary tools to successfully complete the assignments.

Job security - This no longer means a job for life. Employees are more likely to stay with a business if their business maintains a safe, stable work environment and provides additional benefits such as a four-day week or reserved parking.

Showing respect - Respecting employee's efforts and show them how they add value to the business. Cross-training staff and encouraging them to work more closely with customers can help employees to feel more valued.

Employee recognition - Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that employees want to be acknowledged for the job that they do. Motivate staff by taking the time to personally thank an employee for doing something well. Specifically say how and why an employee's efforts were of value.

Employee recognition is a powerful tool for shaping and reinforcing desired performance – with the advantage of helping both the business and its employees feel better in the process.

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