10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Motivate Employees

Why we love this team motivation idea: We love that there are so many paths you can take to encourage professional development amongst your team. Some of those include development workshops, training sessions, mentoring programs, and subscriptions to external platforms like LinkedIn Learning.

A Better Way

Jerry, a new pharmaceuticals company manager, learns that Bernard—a talented but reticent and angry scientist reporting to him—was passed over for a promotion. Jerry’s insight? Bernard yearns to preserve his dignity.

Yourself: How might you be bringing out the person’s worst? Ask him and his colleagues to describe how you come across. Something basic—for instance, how you talk—may be wrong for him, though fine for others.

2. Reframe your goals. Replace predetermined “solutions”—required new behaviors with the threat of dismissal if he doesn’t comply—with a menu of possibilities. Flexibility can yield surprisingly rich alternatives. Example:

A customer-account processor’s proclivity toward gossip and office politics might be directed more constructively toward team building. And opportunities to interact directly with customers may provide the interpersonal stimulus he’s craving.

3. Stage the encounter. In a face-to-face meeting, affirm the person’s value to your company, describe the problem as you see it, assert things can’t continue this way, and state your desire for a mutually beneficial outcome.

Then test hunches about ways to co-opt the person’s passions for productive ends. Watch for unexpected areas of agreement—then tease ideas out of the person. To avoid another “yes, boss” encounter, don’t “sell” your viewpoint. Example:

When the scientist Bernard says, “Nobody with technical smarts gets respect here,” Jerry sees an opening: make Bernard an advisor and technical coach for his unit—and get him credit for it. Now Bernard must propose specifically how this might work.

Everyone knows that good managers motivate with the power of their vision, the passion of their delivery, and the compelling logic of their reasoning. Add in the proper incentives, and people will enthusiastically march off in the right direction.

It’s a great image, promoted in stacks of idealistic leadership books. But something is seriously wrong with it: Such a strategy works with only a fraction of employees and a smaller fraction of managers. Why? For one thing, few executives are particularly gifted at rallying the troops. Exhorting most managers to become Nelson Mandelas or Winston Churchills imbues them with little more than a sense of guilt and inadequacy. For another, all available evidence suggests that external incentives—be they pep talks, wads of cash, or even the threat of unpleasant consequences—have limited impact. The people who might respond to such inducements are already up and running. It’s the other folks who are the problem. And, as all managers know from painful experience, when it comes to managing people, the 80–20 rule applies: The most intractable employees take up a disproportionate amount of one’s time and energy.

After 30 years of studying business organizations and advising executives, I have concluded that these are precisely the wrong questions to ask. That’s because, as it turns out, you can’t motivate these problem people: Only they themselves can. Your job is to create the circumstances in which their inherent motivation—the natural commitment and drive that most people have—is freed and channeled toward achievable goals. That approach requires an entirely different managerial mind-set. Achieving this shift in perspective is anything but easy. But it’s your best hope for getting the most out of your difficult employees. And if you succeed, your task won’t be prodding or coaxing these people; it will be removing barriers—including, quite possibly, your own demotivating management style.

A Familiar Problem

Let’s look at a couple of situations that will surely resonate with most managers. First, consider the problem facing Annette. (Though the cases in this article are real, the names and identifying details have been changed.) She is a senior designer at a large publishing and graphic design business, with dotted-line responsibility for Colin, a project team member. Always something of a maverick, Colin nonetheless has a good work history. But the team is feeling the heat because the company restructured it to reduce costs and speed turnaround times. And Colin’s behavior is becoming increasingly problematic, or so Annette and Dave, the project manager and Colin’s other boss, see it. Colin seems to be shirking work, and when he does complete assignments, he doesn’t report back to his bosses. To Annette, Colin’s behavior doesn’t just reflect his inherent disregard for rules and procedures; it also signifies a reluctance to take on further assignments. After discussing the situation with Dave, Annette decides that she will be the one to talk to Colin because she has the better relationship with him.

Annette’s strategy is to motivate Colin by appealing to his sense of responsibility to the project team. When she meets with him and tries to get him to accept this line of reasoning, Colin agrees to do what Annette wants. But she doesn’t get the feeling that her argument has made any impact. In her opinion, Colin is in his comfort zone: He supports the other team members, even helps them to solve their problems, but he does so at the expense of fulfilling his own responsibilities. Annette wonders whether Colin has become a misfit in the new structure and will have to leave. Perhaps she should give him a formal warning at his annual appraisal. Or maybe she should transfer him to a less demanding job, in effect demoting him.

Here’s another case. Paolo works in Eastern Europe as a country manager for an international property developer. George, a chartered accountant with an MBA, is a direct report whose job is to sell plots of land and develop strategic alliances with local companies. George is fairly new to this position, having previously worked in a back-office role overseeing customer accounts. Although George is pleasant and enthusiastic, his performance is subpar and shows no signs of improvement. In fact, George has yet to sell a single parcel of land. In his dealings with potential partners, the garrulous George acts as though his bonhomie is all he needs to cut a deal. And the deals he does manage to make turn out to be ill considered and costly.

Because of these issues, Paolo meets with George several times to try to get him to change his ways. George responds with encouraging smiles, plausible excuses, and a commitment to Paolo that things will change, but nothing does. In the final analysis, Paolo decides, George is slippery and lazy. Despite his promises, George refuses to adopt a different negotiating style, and he obviously isn’t prepared to do the detailed research necessary to appraise a deal. Exasperated, Paolo decides to issue George an ultimatum: Improve your game or get out. But firing George would be an expensive option; people with his background and skills are difficult to find in this part of the world.

Poor Paolo. He can almost smell the failure likely to result from a confrontation. He’ll continue to get reassurances from George, but will he ever get George to change his ways and be accountable for his performance? Poor Annette. If only she could convince Colin to improve his attitude, she could hold on to a potentially valuable team member. But no matter how reasonable Annette’s argument is, will she be able to get Colin to behave differently?

What the pandemic taught us about how to motivate staff

Safety should be a priority: Whether it’s ordering enough PPE and hand sanitiser for all of your staff members or encouraging them to take days off when they don’t feel well – your staff’s safety and well-being should be at the forefront of your business.

Empathy goes a long way: The past year has affected people differently in all aspects of their life. Take some time to talk to your employees and listen to their needs. They might need more flexibility, a period of rest or just some helpful resources.

Communication is key: If the business is undergoing some changes, you should let your employees know. That way, they can trust you and your company, and feel slightly more secure knowing you’ll keep them informed.

Top 10 ways to motivate your employees:

1. Make your business a pleasant place to be.

No one wants to stand around in a dingy, boring space for hours on end. Having an aesthetically pleasing, well-lit, functional and fun workspace makes work a lot more pleasant. The first step is to make sure things are well-kept and that you have up-to-date equipment. This means switching out that Cold War–era back office computer and swapping your glacial-paced point-of-sale system with one that’s fast, flexible and free to use.

It also means keeping things clean and nice looking. Sprucing up your space doesn’t have to be expensive. Try featuring local artists or pick up interesting furniture pieces at a nearby charity shop. All these little touches will make things a lot more enjoyable for your employees (and by proxy, your customers).

2. Be a respectful, honest and supportive manager.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but bad management is one of the top reasons employees run for the hills. Things like respect, honesty, support and clear communication are the foundations here. But there’s a lot more you can do to be a great leader and mentor.

If you’re new to this whole management thing, it’s worth reading some books on the subject — effective management, like any other skill, takes knowledge and practice. As a starting point, check out Amazon’s best-sellers for business management, or head to the employee management section of Square’s blog. The long and short of it: if you’re a good person to work for, your employees will be more loyal.

3. Offer employee rewards.

People will stay with your business if they have a reason to. So, if you want to keep your employees motivated, it’s worth starting an incentive program. Here are some rewards you could look to incorporate:

4. Give them room to grow.

If your business is rapidly expanding, giving your employees room to grow within the company is a huge motivator. There’s the dangling carrot of more money, yes, but there’s also the psychological factor of feeling like they’re trusted and respected for their work.

If you’re opening a second location, think about which of your employees might be a good fit for a management role there. If there’s someone who’s doing a particularly good job with inventory, consider encouraging that person to take over vendor relations completely. When you give your best employees growth opportunities, it shifts their thinking from “this is just a side job” to “this could be a full-fledged career.”

5. Share positive feedback.

It’s great to feel fulfilled by your work. In fact, it’s one of the key job satisfaction factors. Satisfaction in your work can come from a variety of places — from knowing you made the perfect cup of coffee to boosting someone’s self-confidence with a brand new haircut. And if your customers express appreciation for these things, be sure to share that feedback with your employees.

This is especially easy to do with Square Feedback. Many Square sellers make it a point to share all the positive, encouraging feedback with their employees during weekly meetings. Letting your employees know they made someone’s day (or more) makes them feel good — and gives them a deeper connection to your business.

6. Be transparent.

Having insight into how the business is going makes your employees more invested. So, make a point to share this data with them on a regular basis. Square makes this simple with our easy-to-use Dashboard feature, full of business insights.

You can send out daily, weekly or monthly sales reports — or even share information about how many customers are new versus returning. Having access to all this data not only makes your employees feel like they’re an important part of the business, but it also helps point out areas where things could be improved.

7. Offer flexible scheduling.

Technology has changed the way businesses operate, as well as the way we work. Especially after the past year, where working from home has become more of the norm. In 2021, almost 4 million UK employees have enjoyed flexible working hours, so it’s vital your business caters to this surge to remain a competitive employer.

8. Offer food in the workplace.

Is food the key to employee retention? Maybe. After all, nobody works well when they’re hungry. A mid-morning snack or late afternoon nibble can boost your employees’ energy and mood, making them even more productive throughout the day. In fact, research has shown that access to free food in the office can increase employee happiness by 11%.

And with 60% of employees ranking meals and snacks in the top three office perks, food is clearly an important part of many workplace cultures. It makes sense: When your employer pays attention to your physical needs, you get the impression that they care about you as a person – not just what you can do for the company.

Bonus Strategies To Motivate Your Team In 2022

11) Recognize a Job Well Done

dog wearing ribbon

As Charleston, South Carolina-based performance coach and employee engagement expert Liz Guthridge explains, recognition satisfies a fundamental need for all of us in the workplace:

“People crave recognition. Recognition serves a worthwhile purpose. Recognition confirms you’re doing the right thing and encourages you to keep doing it. Plus the act of giving and receiving recognition makes both the giver and receiver feel good, thanks to the hit of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter.”

“One of the best ways to motivate your people is through appreciation and recognition – the more frequent, the better. In our The Future of Work is Human Report, 79% of respondents told us recognition and rewards makes them work harder.”

Tony Aldridge, a top-performing sales manager and expert motivator here at SnackNation, dives deeper. He explains recognition needs to be personalized to the individual, “Some people like to have their name up in lights while others like a simple email. Remember that everyone likes their recognition in their own way and it is our job as leaders to understand that.”

Bonusly Platform


12) Take Your Culture Virtual

Whether or not your team is completely remote, it’s a pretty fair bet that a significant amount of collaboration happens virtually. It only makes sense that the culture and core values that define your organization should extend to the virtual realm as well.

While the concept of taking company culture virtual to support your modern workforce makes a lot of sense in theory, the logistics of how to actually accomplish that can be confusing. We recommend working with a partner like Fond. A unifying cultural hub that offers an accessible social recognition feed where employees can come to feel appreciated and more connected to one another.

One of the many things we love about Fond is that it allows program administrators to configure custom recognition occasions, which means you can encourage employees to recognize each other for culturally relevant accomplishments. Our favorite example is living up to company core values, but you can do whatever makes most sense for your company.

In addition, Fond allows you to customize your rewards catalogue and bundles rewards, peer-to-peer recognition, and a vast selection of exclusive corporate perks on a single platform that serves to reinforce your company culture virtually.

    1. Set your recognition occasions. For a one-time recognition challenge, it can be fun to set a unique occasion that highlights a particular cultural element you want to work on strengthening. For example, maybe you want to work on improving collaboration. If that’s your goal, you might create a custom recognition occasion titled “Being a Team Player.” Whenever an employee sees a colleague living out this value, they can easily celebrate them for it through Fond.
    2. Outline goals. For your challenge to be effective, you need to clearly outline goals. Start by setting a timeline — will this challenge be running for a week? A month? A quarter? Once you’ve clarified that, challenge employees to deliver a certain number of recognitions, or max out their giving budget before time runs out. Keep in mind that the goals you outline should be focused on giving, not getting, recognition, as this is more effective for instilling a culture of gratitude at your organization.
    3. Pick your prizes. The program will be most effective if it’s incentivized — and all the better if you can make those incentives exclusive company offers that can only be earned through participation in the recognition challenge. Higher-end company swag (think branded AirPods) and out-of-the-office excursions (think wine tasting, courtesy of the company) are examples of options employees are sure to love.
    4. Ready, set, recognize! With these things in place, you can launch your challenge and let employees recognize away. By the end of the challenge, employees will be in the habit of recognizing one another. Even when the challenge has ended, the habit of recognition will carry on as a regular company practice that helps your culture thrive virtually.

    Key Employee Motivation Stats You Need to Know

    • Recent research from CV-Library, the UK’s leading independent job site, has found that 55% of employees are unhappy at work (CV Library)
    • Happy employees experience 31% higher productivity (Talent Works International)
    • 62% of employees in managerial positions report high job satisfaction levels (smallbizgenius)
    • 51% of US workers say they get a sense of identity from their job (smallbizgenius)
    • Employees who report being happy at work take 10 times fewer sick days (Talent Works International)
    • 86% of organizations have a rewards and/or recognition program in place (Hawk Incentives)
    • 79% of American workers say company culture is an important factor in job satisfaction (smallbizgenius)
    • Employees who feel their superiors treat them with respect are 63% more satisfied with their jobs (smallbizgenius)
    • Only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work (Gallup)
    • 78% of companies have a documented employee engagement strategy, and less than 50% measure success (Rise People)
    • Disengaged employees cost organizations between $450 and $550 billion annually (The Engagement Institute)
    • 80% of employees feel more engaged when their work is consistent with the core values and mission of their organization (IBM)
    • Employees who feel their voice is heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work (Salesforce)
    • Companies with engaged employees see 233% greater customer loyalty and a 26% greater annual increase in revenue (Aberdeen Group)
    • 85% of employees say they were likely to stay longer with an employer that showed a high level of social responsibility (Rise People)
    • 93% of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer (Businessolver)
    • More than 50% of CEOs say corporate culture influences productivity, creativity, profitability, company value, and growth rate (smallbizgenius)

    This is especially true in the world where Millennials make up the biggest part of today’s workforce. We are all aware of how demanding Millennials can be, and most employers are aware of their new expectations, requests, and needs.

    1. Handle uncertainty better

    2. Are better problem-solvers

    3. Are more innovative and creative

    4. Are proactive

    5. Are more productive

    More motivation and engagement often lead to more productivity. Therefore, companies with motivated employees are often more productive than others. In fact, Hay Group’s research on employee motivation proved that offices with engaged employees are 43% more productive.

    6. Understand the company’s goals better

    7. Work towards achieving their own goals

    8. Work towards achieving the company’s goals

    9. Are more customer-centric

    10. Stay with the company longer

    11. Are more adaptable and open to changes

    12. Are better team players

    13. Have a good impact on other employees

    14. Tend to be healthier

    15. Are brand ambassadors

    How to Motivate Employees: 15 Tips to Improve Employee Motivation

    1. Choose the right leaders

    2. Coach your managers

    3. Define precise but realistic engagement goals

    4. Make someone accountable

    After defining goals, leaders should be held accountable. In other words, if the goals are not achieved, managers should be responsible for discovering why the engagement levels are not satisfying. In addition, they should be the ones defining tactics and methods for improvement.

    5. Improve internal communications

    This is a crucial one! Companies with poor employee communications suffer very low levels of employee motivation and engagement. Employees who are not informed and feel left behind are much harder to motivate.

    6. Value employees’ work and contribution

    7. Give structured feedback

    8. Reward your employees

    9. Connect with your employees

    10. Build a positive workplace environment

    11. Encourage creativity and innovation

    12. Empower your employees

    13. Implement learning and development programs

    14. Address employees’ quality of life

    15. Make sure to understand what motivates them



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