Top 16 Ways to Motivate Employees

People are at the center of every business regardless of the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence. Profits, productivi...

February 13, 2020
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“You don’t build a business — You build people— and then people build the business.” -– Zig Ziglar

People are at the center of every business regardless of the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence. Profits, productivity and competitive advantage depend on an engaged workforce.

Retention and turnover are a top workforce concern for Human Resources professionals as cited in the SHRM/Globoforce survey. The study has also found that recognition serves as one of the most effective ways to impact workplace culture and employee experience. More than one-half of the survey respondents said, “their program positively affects retention (68%) and recruitment (56%).”

A tight labor market makes it more critical than ever to effectively motivate employees. Here are 16 ways to motivate employees.


1. Spruce up the office environment

No one wants to work in a dungeon. But if the work environment is dull or toxic it would have the same non-inspiring result for employees as working in a dungeon. If you see employees dragging themselves in at the beginning of their shift it may be that the environment is not seen as an exciting or pleasant place to be.

Here are some ways to spruce up the environment:

  • Add live plants – having lots of plants provide stress relief and adds fresh air to the office!
  • Consider a fresh coat of paint – light blue can stimulate the mind by emulating the daytime sky or consider other bright colors of your brand
  • Update office furniture – adding new desks like stand-up desks or new furniture can modernize your office space. If you don’t have a large enough budget, consider doing minor upgrades like bookshelves or wall frames to change things up
  • Add couches or beanbags – you can purchase these at relatively low costs and offers a more relaxing atmosphere and can provide some casualness to your environment which can reduce stress

2. Foster a culture of positive relationship and teamwork

According to the SHRM/Globoforce survey, “three-quarters of HR professionals say their organization is actively engaged in maintaining or improving positive relationships and teamwork as well as encouraging a compassionate, caring culture.” Focus on developing positive relationships and teamwork. Make having a diverse and inclusive culture a priority.

Here are some fun ideas to encourage positive relationships and teamwork:

  • Once a month or quarterly team outings – depending on your budget, have a cadence where team members can eat together, have happy hours, or social events like bowling, scavenger hunt, etc
  • Start a mentor/mentee program – pair up cross-department
  • Start a peer-to-peer recognition platform like that of Assembly; it’s easy and free to use. Learn more here https://joinassembly.com/

3. Build trust and transparency

There is nothing worse than feeling like you are being lied to or about. Especially if it’s coming from the boss and co-workers. A critical key to establishing a trust centered workplace is value transparency and honesty at all times. Other tips to a trust center workplace include:

  • Leaders be a role model
  • Keep your promises
  • Do as you say you are going to do no matter how big or small
  • Avoid favoritism
  • No surprises -- Provide sincere coaching to those who struggle before abruptly terminating employment
  • Correct behavior or performance in private

4. Implement zero tolerance for harassment

Laws don’t prevent harassment, leaders do. Don’t tolerate bullying or harassment at any level for any reason. If it’s happening and you don’t know what to do, get an expert in Human Resources involved or another partner supervisor to work with you. But act now. Your employees who have had to endure it will thank you.


5. Provide learning opportunities or stretch assignments

To keep from feeling stagnate employees need to feel like they are growing. Create learning opportunities, education and the ability to earn degrees or certifications. Let them sit in on project meetings or events normally set for leaders so they can expand their understanding of the business.

For example, Pixar provides in-house courses called Pixar University, that employees can participate in. The university is designed to enable training and cross-training supporting on-going career development. More about Pixar employee motivation is found here https://hbr.org/2008/09/how-pixar-fosters-collective-creativity

Cisco provides stretch assignments to encourage employees to go beyond their day-to-day work. In addition to the assignments they award employees’ willingness to stretch by providing an, “Expand Your Boundaries” award. Learn more about Cisco’s program here: https://blogs.cisco.com/lifeatcisco/stretch-assignments-take-employee-beyond-the-day-to-day

6. Provide freeing flexibility

Free up the ability to self-schedule the work if possible. Being able to schedule work around life events without feeling guilty has a positive impact on the employee experience.

Dell Technologies had been developing its flexible work program since 2009. The company leaders understood the trend that employees, value flexible work arrangements as much as their paycheck. Examples of flexible work they offer are full-time remote and select specific days on campus and job sharing. https://jobs.dell.com/work-flexibility

Sodexo is another example of a company offering flexible work arrangements. This company launched its “Flexibility Works! Initiative in 2008. As a result of this program Sodexo is seeing greater engagement – 73% of employees have great job satisfaction, 62% are more loyal, and 53% are more productive because of their ability to work more flexibly. Learn more about Sodexo’s flexible work https://www.workflexibility.org/how-work-flex-helps-me-ride-the-wave/

7. Give purpose and meaning to the work

Giving employees the big picture and how they fit in gives them a greater sense of purpose and connection to the business. If they truly feel they have a significant place in the big picture has a motivating effect.

One way to give purpose and meaning to the work is to involve employees in identifying when the company’s purpose is being demonstrated. For example, Exact Sciences, a cancer research organization, involves their employees to act as news reporters and contribute regular updates. This motivates employees to keep their eyes on the culture and see their part in the greater purpose of the organization. More about Exact Sciences is found here: https://www.exactsciences.com

Another tip for making purpose real for employees is to keep the values at the forefront of everyone’s attention. For example, Google has one of the most envied workplace cultures in the world. Google’s values are prominently posted for all to see found here https://www.google.com/about/philosophy.html

To be values-driven they need to be integrated into every aspect of organizational communication. Values are communicated and reinforced in the recruitment process, new employee orientation, total rewards communications, spoke about in meetings, and used to help make business decisions.

8. Listen and Act

It's motivating when leaders seek out your input and act on your feedback. Listen to employees and act on their feedback when possible. But this is not a “one and done” effort. Feedback can be obtained through every point of the employment life cycle and on an ongoing basis.


Companies like Apple are seeking feedback from their employees every day utilizing measures such as the employee net promoter score. The employee net promoter score is adopted from being applied to customers to build brand loyalty. Apple began to utilize the approach for employee feedback. Apple implements the survey every four months to measure how likely are they to recommend Apple as a good place to work. This is intended to keep a pulse on employee satisfaction without burdening employees with cumbersome surveys with dozens of questions. Read more about Apple’s approach to employee engagement here https://www.bain.com/insights/net-promoter-for-people/

9. Set “go-getter” goals

Establish “go getter” goals. Set up team goals that help the business accomplish its objectives and are attainable. Set up milestones and report frequently the progress. Generate excitement, post visual depictions of team progress.

Here are some goal setting tips:

  • Align employee goals with organizational goals. This will also help employees to see their part in the overall company vision and mission.
  • Get employees to participate in setting their own goals. Work together with them on setting effective goals.
  • The goals should be challenging but not impossible to reach!
  • You can follow the SMART model for setting goals. Make the goals Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timeline.
  • Celebrate goal wins!

10. Acknowledge and recognize – It’s the little things.

One motivator for employees is when they feel top leadership sees and acknowledges them. Get to know employees. Round on the floors and talk with employees at all levels. According to the SHRM/Globoforce survey “60% of organizations help celebrate employee life events.” More about the SHRM/Globoforce survey is found here https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/pages/employee-recognition-2018.aspx

Here are simple ways to recognize employees:

  • Celebrate wins and milestones with employees such as their birthdays or anniversaries
  • Recognize their educational accomplishments with a congratulations team lunch
  • Acknowledge their project or goal accomplishments with a sincere thank you in a team meeting

11. Initiate a volunteerism program

Choose worthy causes and make volunteerism available to your employees. Employees want to feel like they make a difference in the world. Sometimes that may mean going outside of the walls of your workplace. Be careful not to make volunteerism a requirement of the job or federal and state wage and hour regulations may apply.

An example of a good volunteerism program is found in Colgate- Palmolive. They provide a Colgate Cares Day were teams from across the organization participate in service project to help make the world healthier and happier. You can find more information about ideal company volunteerism programs at https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/10-companies-with-unique-volunteer-opportunities


12. Boost employee well-being

Well-being goes beyond physical health. It is a comprehensive approach for caring for employees. Well-being includes physical, mental, financial and spiritual health. Not only can well-being initiatives help employees’ wellness but also positively impact morale, productivity, and engagement.

If you don’t have a lot of resources consider these quick tips:

  • Creating healthy food days
  • Safe walking and biking trails
  • Bringing in health “lunch and learn” sessions

13. Involve employees in change initiatives

No one likes to be surprised when change is suddenly foisted on them. Even worse is when change initiative wasn’t well thought out and negatively impacts employees’ ability to do their jobs effectively. One way to avoid workflow mistakes and unnecessary resistance towards change is to involve employees in the creation of the solution. Brainstorm with them how to make it work. Not only will they feel respected but also part of the solution.

14. Lighten the environment by loving laughter

What makes the daily grind memorable is appropriate humor. Inappropriate humor such as offensive remarks or innuendos may land you up in the HR office. But appropriate humor comes in the form of self-deprecating humor (being able to laugh at yourself), word plays, puns, funny unexpected responses throughout the day. This can provide much-needed relief from an otherwise stressful day and increase productivity and morale.


15. Strengthen your leadership team

It’s no secret that people leave workplace managers. The relationship between the supervisor and the employee is where the rubber meets the road in employee engagement and motivation. Invest in developing your supervisors to become stronger leaders.

There are many different ways to develop a strong leadership team and to make sure they are supporting a healthy employee relationship. Here are some the top ways:

  • Hire leaders that model company values every day
  • Make sure your leaders are making time in their schedules to meet and communicate regularly with employees
  • Train and consistently reinforce good leadership behaviors

16. Say thank you

Employees feel appreciated when they hear a sincere thank you from both the boss and co-workers. Whether it be verbally or in a written form saying thank you have a positive impact on employee motivation. You can influence a culture of gratitude that makes its way throughout the organization.

Use this article as a checklist to evaluate your workplace. Revisit this checklist periodically to ensure your motivational culture continues on the right path over time. The key is to be sincere and consistent. By adopting new ways of communicating and connecting with employees it will motivate employees and have a lasting positive impact.

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