Motivating your employees – what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it

Julia Gifford 19.09.2017

Employee motivation in the workplace seems to be a problem nowadays.

A study on employee engagement has found that 70% of employees are disengaged at work. For a manager whose success depends on the productivity of their employees, these statistics don’t exactly inspire confidence.

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The chances are that your employees are counting down the minutes until they can shut down their computers and call it a day. That’s quite the opposite of the vision you have for dedicated, passionate employees who will stop at no ends to guarantee the success of your company.

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Research from the University of California found that demotivated employees are 31% less productive, are 3x less creative and 87% more likely to quit than motivated employees.

And it gets worse:

It was calculated that every unmotivated employee costs the business an estimated $2246 a year. Now, imagine your company employs over a hundred people, out of which 70% dislike their job… That’s a LOT of money they’re losing.

The question is: if 70% of all employees say they are disengaged and unmotivated at work, then what the heck are managers doing that terribly wrong?

Managers use outdated employee motivation tactics

Many managers still believe that bonuses and additional pay are the only ways to make workers more productive and committed to the work. However, it’s been found that there are situations when monetary reinforcements are not the best tactic to use when motivating your team members.

The famous ”Duncker’s candle problem” experiment conducted by the Canadian professor Sam Glucksberg shows when monetary reinforcements work, and when they don’t:

Two groups of people were given the same task – to fix and light a candle to a wall and make sure that no wax drips on the table. To do so, both groups were given these materials: a candle, a book of matches, and a box of thumbtacks.

With the same materials at hand, one group was given an infinite amount of time to find the solution, while the second group was offered a monetary bonus if they find the solution within a certain time frame.

The solution of the problem required creative use of the materials and, quite literally, thinking outside the box:

Though, the most unexpected part of the experiment was not the answer to the problem. It was the fact that the group that was offered financial incentives consistently finished the task slower than the group given unlimited time.

The experiment showed that monetary rewards, together with limited time resources, increases stress levels and shuts down the creative thinking and problem-solving areas of the brain. Similarly, when employees are offered bonuses based on their performance results within a certain period of time, they become more tense, too focused on the ”carrot” and less creative.

However, this is not where the story ends:

The professor conducted the same experiment again, yet this time, two groups were given thumbtacks and matches outside of their boxes:

Now it was clear that the box is a part of the materials and can be used to complete the task. And this time the group offered financial incentives completed the task much faster than the group given unlimited time.

The conclusion?

Monetary reinforcements may not be the best motivation tactic for knowledge workers, especially in positions that require creative problem-solving.

The experiment showed that creative tasks require more freedom for success, whereas financial incentives are fine for jobs with straight-forward and obvious tasks.

The answer to engaging employees – intrinsic motivation

As opposed to extrinsic motivators, such as bonuses, and the fear of being fired, intrinsic motivation is based on taking pleasure in an activity, rather working towards an external reward. Only when a worker is personally interested in the result, he or she can work at the highest potential.

In fact, a survey conducted by BNET found that 29% of workers are motivated by doing something meaningful. In comparison, money motivated 25% of those surveyed, while recognition motivated 17%.

Blake Mycoskie of Toms shoes sees how meaningful his daily work is. Something that spurs him on daily.

Blake Mycoskie of Toms shoes sees how meaningful his daily work is. Something that spurs him on daily. What you get from intrinsically motivated employees is well worth the effort. Companies that fall in the top 10% with most engaged employees surpass 72% of their competition based on earnings. Additionally, companies with engaged employees also see lower employee turnover rates.

Increasing employee retention rate is a big deal when you think how much it costs for the company to hire and train new team members.

Studies predict replacing an employee costs the company 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. That is, if you must to replace a manager making $40k a year, you should be ready to invest up to $30k in recruiting and training the new employee.

How to motivate your employees: from the experience of DeskTime

Here at DeskTime (a time tracking and productivity app), employees are motivated in various ways, and most of them have nothing to do with money and bonuses.

Flexible work-time gives employees a sense of freedom

At DeskTime, everyone may arrive to work as late as 11 AM, while still working an 8-hour work day. This rule allows night owls to start work later when they feel the most energized and productive. Because really – there is no use of a person in the office who acts and still is half asleep at 8 AM.

Besides, allowing employees to arrive by 11 AM lets people be more flexible with their time. For example, employees can use their mornings for other things that are important to them, like taking kids to school, morning appointments, or whatever else it may be.

Adequate pay creates a feeling of appreciation

Money may not buy you happiness, but it is a vital factor to ensure a basic level of life. That is why money can directly affect productivity: once the employee need not think about their material existence, he or she can focus on the job at hand.

Your task as an employer is to compensate your employees enough, so they don’t have to worry about paying the rent, groceries, etc. This will result in a less stressful environment and will banish thoughts of leaving for a better job, or resentment for the work they’re doing.

Flat organization gives employees voice

Here at DeskTime, any employee can pitch their business ideas to the founders. If they like the idea, the project can be developed and the employee can have equity options. Talk about motivation!

Due to the flat organizational structure, employees are free to share their ideas and suggestions openly. That way, everyone feel they have an impact on the bottom line of the business, which makes them more motivated, engaged and interested in the company’s growth.

Giving your employees voice and chance to share their opinion on core decisions lets them feel more valued and invested in the success of the company. Our experience shows that a company can greatly benefit from the feedback and unique ideas employees often come up with.

Help your people learn and grow

Some companies bring in lecturers to ensure the education of their employees. Google is an excellent example of this, with their Talks at Google, which bring in inspiring speakers to foster innovation.

Here at DeskTime, we do it too – every month, a well-known person is invited to the office to talk about a topic of their choice. For example, we’ve had a DJ who talked about how they choose music played on the radio (it’s psychology!), a wedding manager who shared her biggest failures and weirdest wedding stories, and even a cardiologist who gave tips on how to stay healthy.

As you see, the lectures are not always work or even industry-related. Instead, their goal is to inspire people and widen their perspectives in their work and personal life.

The best part?

Such lectures cost nothing or very little for the company since the speakers are often happy to share their stories.

Invest in creating an office a place employees want to be

A significant part of your day (a third, in fact!) is spent in the office. Creating a friendly environment and making it a place you and your employees want to be is a factor that shouldn’t be ignored.

At DeskTime, teamwork, mutual understanding, and a feeling of joy are taken seriously. Therefore, there are specially designed spaces for people to hang out in a free atmosphere. For example, we’ve got a summer terrace where employees can take a break, or stay longer on a Friday night to party together.

The perfect place for spending quality time with the team

Additionally, the management regularly organizes different team building activities like corporate birthday parties, Christmas parties, boating events, board game nights and more. All those team activities allow people to get to know each other better, help new team members open up and fit in the team, and when back in the office – work better together.

Here are 26 awesome ideas to improve your office and make it a better place to work.

More ways to motivate your employees

Yes, there are even more ways you can make sure your employees are motivated and productive every day:

  • Create self-esteem incentives. That might be empowering employees by putting them in charge of an important project or presentation, or giving them the opportunity to train in another department. As a result, your employees will feel that their skills, and themselves personally, are valued by the company.
  • Streamline expectations. When assigning a project, define a clear primary goal. If you add other minor goals, make sure that they don’t detract from the original purpose.
  • Define employee roles. Provide clear communication to your employees regarding what you expect them to do, and what they can expect other people to do. Therefore, your employees will work on their individual roles more competently and will know who to turn to when they need information or help in a specific area.
  • Use an internal communication system. Regardless of the scale of your business, it’s fundamental that you provide your team with adequate online communication tools such as instant messaging and project management resources. This will enable them to remain connected and informed immediately of any project updates or changes, no matter where they are located within the framework of your business.
  • Provide constructive and meaningful feedback on a regular basis. Aim to offer regular and helpful feedback to employees in a way that encourages them to work harder, rather than criticize them and reduce their motivation. Your feedback doesn’t always have to be positive, but it does always need to be constructive. Always seek to encourage employees; if they have not achieved a goal, show them methods in which they could improve.

Final words: motivate your employees like it’s 2019

The clear majority of us are knowledge workers. In fact, the USA counts close to 38% of the workforce into the category of knowledge work. And as shown by the experiment and proven in our own experience, simple carrot and stick motivation isn’t enough anymore for knowledge workers.

So, what should companies do instead?

Companies today should rethink the methods they use to engage their employees and use intrinsic motivators with their team. That is, managers should focus on employees’ growth, professional challenges, personal fulfillment, and work-life balance.

Now it’s your turn – let us know what your office uses for motivation in the comments below!

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