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Boost employee morale and motivate staff    

by Jackson B

By Liz Sebag-Montefiore, Director of 10Eighty, a strengths-based HR consultancy 

Multiple studies have found that highly engaged employees generate substantial cost savings for businesses in terms of reduced staff turnover, sickness absence and accidents at work, while also increasing revenue through heightened productivity and greater commitment to corporate goals, leading to improved customer advocacy.

At 10Eighty, we believe it is important to give employees freedom with accountability. The best employees want play, purpose and development. In 2017 Matthew Taylor’s review of the modern workplace outlined the factors that are important to working people:

  • People have different motivations at different points in their career and so what represents quality now, may not represent quality ten years later;
  • Pay is only one aspect in determining quality work; for many people fulfilment, personal development, work-life balance or flexibility are just as important;
  • People are most likely to enjoy what they do when they have a meaningful say at work.

Top talent wants to map a career path with their chosen organisation; they want managers who give them a voice and they want to see how their contribution fits into the bigger organisational picture. An employee will have a good level of engagement if they feel they have a manager who listens to them, cares for them, stretches and develops them.

Liz Sebag-Montefiore

Liz Sebag-Montefiore

Trust and transparency

To increase staff morale, I believe you need to have regular, open and honest career conversations with your employees to understand what skills they’d like to develop and what aspirations you can help them pursue. An employee who feels they have a voice and that their contribution counts is more likely to go the extra mile; they are also likely to take less time off, thereby increasing productivity and generating greater shareholder value.

To improve employee engagement, you need to recognise the value of each individual and provide support. The best leaders seek to connect with and understand others, they prioritise team needs and create an environment of trust and support. Such leadership is about nurturing relationships rather than simply managing teams and tasks. These are leaders who motivate others to collaborate, develop and perform, even in difficult and uncertain times.

In addressing morale and motivation it’s often the smaller things which are easiest to implement first and which may have a big impact.

Little things make a difference

Some organisations provide facilities like gym membership or wellness programmes, some offer free onsite meals or free fruit, concierge services and discount schemes, but I believe that success is predicated around ensuring that your people management is employee-centred. There is a lot you can do to make a start on improving morale.

Start by looking at what can be adjusted in your workplace environment to reduce stress so you might consider flexible working hours, regular check-ins, negotiated downtime, and consider how to best use a variety of communication channels to engage with employees. Employees will have different preferences, especially when they are working from home, so try to tailor your one on one communication to what suits each team member.

Try to be flexible in how you manage your team and look at what you can do, stop doing or defer doing to ease the feeling many employees have at the moment of being overwhelmed by the stresses of the current pandemic crisis. Think about what is getting in the way of this team feeling confident and effective and doing their best work.

Connect and engage

Find ways to socially re-connect before online meetings, too often we jump right into the agenda but I think it is a good idea to make time at the beginning of a Zoom call for some socialising, just as you would in a physical room before a meeting starts. Social interaction is something a lot of people miss when working from home, so take the opportunity to encourage the team to build resilience, which will optimise performance and engagement with work.

Connect the impact of your work to external stakeholders, and ensure all members of the team understand that what the organisation does, affects the lives of others such as peers, customers, community, etc. Be alive to the issues that are keenly felt by employees today – social, environmental and governance issues including diversity and inclusion, pollution, climate change, generational differences and ever-changing workforce dynamics.

Showing gratitude more often can make a big difference, take notice of the small things, celebrate strengths and say thank you, well done, good job; it takes little effort and is likely to make some members of your team feel more engaged and to improve morale.

Motivational factors

Motivation can be more complicated to influence; intrinsic motivation can be defined as “the inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise one’s capacities, to explore, and to learn.” (Ryan & Deci). Motivation comes from within, it is personal and changes over time. Less than a third of employees say money is a motivation to perform well in their job, according to figures from the National Training Awards and YouGov; the biggest motivator for 43% of staff surveyed was having a passion for their job or company.

A traditional carrot and stick motivational approach tends to undermine autonomy and commitment. Research suggests that optimum motivation happens through mindfulness, values, and sense of purpose, rather than through incentives, power and status, guilt or fear of disappointing others. Understanding what does and does not motivate a particular person is key to designing their career plan, securing their engagement and harnessing their commitment and discretionary effort.

During lockdown you can’t rely on motivational posters, the website or coffee mugs to keep your values in the forefront of employee minds. You need to communicate them by talking about them in meetings, training events, feedback sessions and by discussing and acknowledging what the values mean in practice – what they look like, sound like and feel like. A McKinsey survey of more than 1,000 executives found that the top three non-financial motivators which played critical roles in making people feel that their companies valued them, took their well-being seriously and strove to create opportunities for career growth. They were:

  • praise and commendation from their immediate manager;
  • attention from leaders;
  • opportunities to lead projects or task forces.

More than money

Salary is not a long-term motivator for most employees, if it is not right, the employee will be unhappy, but an adjustment will only have a short-term effect on satisfaction levels. Real motivators are more likely to be found in achievement, recognition, the inherent value of the work to the individual, responsibility and opportunities for development and advancement.

Internal research by Accenture showed found 80 percent of the variation in engagement levels was down to the line manager. As a result, employees’ most important relationship at work is with their line manager; “people join organisations, but they leave managers.”

If you aim to connect everyone to strategic organisational goals then you need to engage your people with inspiring leadership and a culture and vision designed to develop a culture of accountability and collaborative engagement with core values.

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