Motivation in the workplace is a big topic, more so right now due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the onset of the “new normal” working environment. Motivation is featured highly on every leader’s agenda as the quick transition to working from home (WFH) took place, coupled with the mass adoption of digital forms of communication as the main point of connection.
There has been a shifting landscape as the tectonic plates of aspiration, value, and meaning collide with what motivates individuals and teams in the workplace.
In this article, I will talk about how to improve individual employee motivation and how to improve team motivation, as what motivates a team to high performance can differ from that of an employee.
Now, let’s dive into what’s really going on. Here are three powerful ways to improve employee motivation post-pandemic.
1. Give Employees Autonomy
I think a large majority of companies have missed a golden opportunity to build trust during the pandemic and subsequent new normal era. Instead, they chose to focus on measuring productivity and quantifying efficiency over autonomy and trust. As a result, they inadvertently squandered the opportunity that was in front of them.
At the same time, for the employee, the veil has been lifted, the curtain pulled back, and the magic has worn off. However you want to look at it, the shift from 9 to 5 office culture to WFH has left many employees wondering why—why did I tolerate the long commute to the office? We’re all those in-person meetings necessary?
Work-life in the 21st Century has been put under the microscope and scrutinized because of a virus. employees are often packed like sardines into hot and sweaty train carriages or sitting motionless in rush hour traffic for hours on end, not to mention the pressure of carefully planning the day’s outfit all just to be seen working at the desk and readily available to anyone who wants to stop by for a disruptive but well-meaning natter.
While the move to WFH has provided some additional benefits, such as more time with family, a more flexible working location, no commute, and casual dress, it has also caused some issues to show up.
These issues relate directly to business stress and health. They include increased expectations around being available beyond the scope of normal working hours, being hyper-visible online, answering Slack messages at the drop of a hat, increased use of urgent language, and daily video training calls scheduled intrusively throughout lunch breaks.
All of which to say, work-life balance and personal power have been compromised, and a huge opportunity for increased focus and motivation are missed due to the factors I’ll explain below.
The Home Has Become the Office
Society is working longer and harder than before and finds it harder to switch off because now, the office is also the home. Managers who understand that the boundaries between personal and professional have been violated and understand that working from home isn’t necessarily ideal will get the best from their employees.
Managers can be more thoughtful by showing respect and awareness of the situation, such as cramped home environments (not everyone has a home office), children causing general disruption, managing household visitors from cleaners, parcel deliveries, and grocery drop-offs, combined with the added pressure to always be available online.
To motivate employees, where possible, allow them to gain freedom over their daily work. When employees feel trusted to make decisions and operate independently, it promotes feelings of well-being and self-confidence.
A 2020 study on the future of work showed that with covid-19 and the new normal, more people than ever are moving jobs for autonomy and flexibility. “People want to control when they work, where they work, and what they’re working on,” says Arvind Malhotra Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
The upshot is that the level of autonomy that employees experienced during the pandemic has, in turn, led to changes in employee expectation around the degree of autonomy that they expect going forward.
Simply put, employees now value autonomy more than they did in the pre-pandemic era. Therefore, companies that adapt to this will inevitably attract the best talent by default. Those that don’t will lose out, and rightly so.
This new outlook on life is also impacting the way employees view the traditional working hours of 9 to 5. Business owners must now consider rethinking this paradigm as it allows employees to complete work in blocks or batches, which is more convenient for the employee.
In essence, autonomy in all regards is now the attribute employees are prioritizing and can be used as a method of motivation.
2. Go Deeper
Taking it a step further, feeling valued as an employee and respected for who you are as a person beyond your role at the company is poised to become a key factor in motivation in the workplace.
People want to feel understood, valued, and respected. The introduction of “slack time” (i.e., letting employees focus on projects outside the scope of their normal role, e.g., developing a side project, learning to code, or picking up a language) has been adopted by many of the major tech players for some time.
When companies embrace the pursuits and endeavors of the individual beyond the workplace and promote them internally, it makes the employee feel valued and in turn creates meaning. This should not be overlooked. The value of doing meaningful work is what it’s all about.
I have experienced this myself working for Playground XYZ, the innovative attention-based mobile company headquartered out of Australia that readily embraced my role as an author, entrepreneur, and mentor, which made it such a privilege to work for them. When meaning can be attached to the job, it promotes a huge win for the company as employees identify more deeply with the products they are representing, the values of the company, and its core mission.
What companies should consider as it relates to employee motivation levels is the optimal level of side-project time to boost motivation in business. Does 10% make an adequate difference? How about 40%?
Whatever the percentage is, companies that can praise employees’ talents at the individual level and showcase them as valued members of the team will thrive.
3. Be Mindful When Using Technology
Zoom fatigue? We’ve all been there—a series of grueling back-to-back Zoom calls, flickering eyelids, the mental fog at the end of a long day fuelled by caffeine and inhaled lunches, and the urge to write just one more email.
But stop—this is not what the future of work will look like. There is a dire need for the consideration of building a “technology detox” into the normal routine of the working day of every employee so that it is adopted and becomes common practice.
Mindfulness in the workplace is another method of improving engagement, cognitive focus, and productivity. The mistake is reconciling that longer hours equal greater results.
Instead, having flexibility around walking meetings, in-person catch-ups, and time away from the requirement to be contactable boosts positivity and makes employee motivation levels sore. Imagine if every employee felt this burst of life.
The pandemic has shown that work can be done outside of the office, but there is a giant opportunity waiting to be unlocked. Those companies that find the appropriate balance will prevail.
Improving Team Motivation in the Workplace
Now, here are two important points to consider for improving team motivation in the workplace.
Doing the Opposite
This might sound counterintuitive, but it works. Yet, so many leaders get this wrong. The principle is that when you’re winning, it’s time to drive the team harder and when you’re losing, it’s time to show relatability and understanding.
Why then do so many leaders fail to put this into practice when it truly matters?
Most leaders panic when they see falling revenue numbers and instead of adopting a nurturing growth-centered presence, they go on a rampage, micromanaging and haranguing, destroying momentum, and creating a pressure cooker-type environment, which only serves to stifle and demotivate the team further.
I encourage you to try out doing the opposite if your team is currently behind on their numbers right now. Follow this strategy, and see how your attitude changes the results and goes a long way to building the momentum back up.
Notice how new information flows to you and fresh insights that would previously have remained hidden are suddenly revealed by the team. It takes courage to do this, but it demonstrates trust and empathy from which a newfound team dynamic can be developed. This is the glue that forms a strong bond between team members and their manager, which in turn promotes sharing of ideas and culture.
At times of heightened stress, motivate through encouragement, learning, and growth. The last thing your team needs is for you to turn into an overbearing manager who displays your stress levels for all to see.
This is poor leadership. The best leaders can control their emotions while giving employees what they need—a helping hand to understand that they will rise to the top through preparation and a solid plan of action.
Maintaining Core Values
When employees understand and operate by the company values, they have a road map, a battle plan, a way to make decisions that frees them from the mental overload of decision paralysis. When company values aren’t clear, made obvious, or ingrained, the culture of the organization will suffer dramatically. It will be lifeless.
Values are the rudder in the water that directs the wind in the sails and serve as guiding principles that must be taught, repeated daily, and lived by.
Ask yourself this, “what do we stand for?”
If you can’t answer this from a company perspective, then you are rudderless and when the storm hits, be prepared to take a battering.
More Tips on Motivating Employees
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