10 strategies for motivating employees

Nick Stanley
By Nick Stanley

Updated: 14 February 2024.

Everyone agrees that it's far better to have a team of motivated, engaged people at your workplace. The business will be more productive and more profitable.

But exactly how to get and, just as importantly, keep your employees motivated can be easier said than done.

happy employee walking down stairs

People are different and what inspires one person may not motivate another. For some, it may be money, while others want career advancement or more flexibility. Others find all the motivation they need within themselves and just get on and perform.

In short, there is no one-size-fits-all method for motivating employees, boosting performance levels, and creating a happy, thriving work environment. You need to combine a bunch of different techniques.

Here are 10 tips to help you create an effective employee motivation strategy that will help keep your people happy and focused on doing their best.

1. Start with individuals

It's impossible to motivate your people if you don't know who they are and what drives them.

Take the time to discuss their needs and aspirations, and find out what motivation looks like to them. From there you can work on best aligning each person's role and tasks with their professional and personal goals, and tailor motivational strategies that will suit each employee.

This is an ongoing, open conversation that should start when you hire them and continue with regular check-ins.

Motivation fluctuates over time, so the skill is in getting to know each person and continuing to adapt and refine your approach to support them in staying inspired and engaged.

2. Get the basics right

Some businesses or HR departments can get distracted chasing a Silicon Valley-like environment with pinball machines, beanbags, and other outward displays of 'cool'. But if the basics are not right, all the fancy initiatives won't mean much and your employees will see them as a thin veneer over a deficient culture.

Nothing welcomes a new person like having a watertight employment agreement issued before they start the job and a solid onboarding and induction process that quickly establishes them in the role and the team.

Ensure your company culture is based on fairness and respect for all people, and that everyone's behaviour actually aligns with those stated values.

Pay employees correctly and on time. Establish performance objectives at the start of a review period, not on the fly or halfway through.

Getting the basics right may mean you never need to invest in a pinball machine to keep your people motivated, but if you do, it will be the icing on the cake.

Get more tips for building a strong company culture.

3. Trust your people

Trust is one of the most important building blocks in any organisational culture.

It goes both ways: employees need to trust that their boss or manager has their best interests at heart and managers need to trust their people to do the job properly without constant monitoring.

It doesn't come naturally to all managers; there can be a tendency to equate a trusting environment with a slack one, and employees will take advantage.

But if you foster positive relationships with each individual and build trust by letting them use their initiative and work independently as much as possible, you'll build a more creative, self-sufficient team.

This will also help create a bond with your employees and stop them from feeling micromanaged, which can be a real motivation-sapper.

4. Show people the big picture

Another key to keeping employees motivated is letting them know how the work they do helps the company achieve its wider objectives.

Take the time to fully explain the purpose and goals of the business, and how each person's role contributes. Again, this should be a continuing conversation that recognises and adapts to any change in organisational targets and employee ambitions.

By understanding the value of their role, you encourage employees to perform because they know exactly what their hard work will achieve and that any success is shared.

This makes work meaningful and fulfilling because people know they are making a difference, rather than just being cogs in a machine.

5. Be open and transparent

People that work for a company that champions open communication and transparency are more likely to stay motivated and loyal.

Being transparent with information encourages an atmosphere of trust and certainty, where there are few surprises and employees aren't left in the dark (which usually leads to them thinking the worst).

Providing a forum for employees' suggestions and ideas gives them a voice and creates confidence in their value to the business. It also helps give their work meaning.

If your employees know what's happening at a high level, and they have a chance to provide input, they will feel more involved and committed to the company's direction.

6. Set small, achievable goals

People perform best when they have specific goals to achieve and by breaking larger objectives down into smaller ones, you can help keep people motivated and focused.

With smaller goals, team members get to clearly see progress and that their efforts have tangible meaning.

Involve them in the goal-setting process and make sure any targets you decide upon are specific and realistic, so employees can achieve them and know when they have. Then you can celebrate each target you reach.

7. Recognise and reward

Of course, employees get paid for their labours, but people like to have opportunities to go above and beyond, and to be recognised for it.

Reward and recognition are far better long-term motivators than punishment, as they prove to a person that they are doing the right thing and encourage them to keep doing it.

This helps strengthen the employer-employee relationship, and lifts self-esteem and people's sense of belonging.

Rewards don't have to be formalised – though they should be built into your performance management system – you can reward employees or teams for achieving goals or doing amazing work. It might be an impromptu lunch or afternoon off, or as simple as an appreciative email.

Recognition works best when it's personalised, as people like to be acknowledged in different ways. This has the added benefit of making each person feel valued as an individual.

Learn about the best benefits and perks to offer employees.

8. Give frequent feedback

Don't wait for the annual performance review to give your employees feedback.

Frequent, meaningful feedback helps employees thrive by providing direction, certainty, and confidence.

Positive feedback highlights progress and helps generate a sense of accomplishment. Negative feedback, while it can be uncomfortable, should be constructive and aimed at finding ways for the employee to improve.

Feedback is also much more effective when it is delivered close to the event. That way your employee gets a much clearer sense of the conduct you wish to reinforce or discourage.

9. Provide career development

Research into employee motivation and engagement has repeatedly shown that employees want to learn and grow. No one wants to feel like they are stuck in the same place, doing the same thing.

This starts with understanding where someone sees themselves heading and then working with them to find opportunities for them to expand their skills and take on new challenges.

View training and progression as an investment that will pay off in higher performance and productivity in the long run. You'll also develop more of the skills your team needs, in-house.

Of course, there is a risk that the next step in a person's career could be one away from the company, but that is better than having a team of people who are bored and apathetic.

Get some effective strategies for retaining your skilled people.

10. Offer flexibility and regular breaks

Happy, healthy employees are proven to be superior performers.

Many people now expect some flexibility in their work arrangements and providing flexible options (where possible) allows workers to better balance their professional and personal lives. It also shows you prioritise wellbeing and can trust people to do their job regardless of location.

Ensuring people take regular breaks at work improves their ability to stay focused, helping problem-solving and boosting overall productivity. It's also important for everyone's health and safety.

Encourage employees to take leave they are entitled to. They shouldn't feel they have to come to work when they are sick, grieving, or just in need of a day to recharge their energy levels.

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