Top tips for staff motivation in a small business

Getting paid and workplace perks are low down the list when it comes to keeping staff motivated, says Rachel King of HR specialist Breathe. Given how difficult it is to fill vacancies, here are top tips to keep staff enthused

Summer’s in sight but maintaining staff morale and motivation can still be a challenge when it comes to leading an exhausted workforce. Speaking generally, the current cohort has been under immense pressure in both personal and professional spheres, which has been carried forward as hybrid working practices mature.

For businesses, this time of year can mean people begin to get itchy feet and move onto another role elsewhere – this is especially true following the events of the pandemic so far.

Bearing this in mind, it’s a great time to take a look at how we approach staff motivation. Inspiring and motivating teams isn’t something all small business owners and management possess; it might not always come naturally. But these skills are what makes you a cut above as a leader.

>See also: How to improve employee motivation in the workplace

When we think about motivation, the old-school thinking focuses on salary and benefits – meeting an employee’s basic needs, the primary reason they come to work in the first place. But staff motivation runs deeper than that. Job dissatisfaction can cause such pervasive harm to a person’s overall wellbeing that no number of financial incentives can plaster the wound. That’s why transactional benefits just aren’t enough to maintain and nurture a happy, productive environment.

It helps to think about team motivation by breaking it down into three essential components:

  • Purpose – the “why”, the reason which drives and gives meaning to everyday activities, contributing to a larger cause
  • Mastery – honing skills and sharpening knowledge to become better at something that matters
  • Autonomy – the right or condition of self-government, the power to direct our own lives

>See also: Why a sense of purpose is more important than money when it comes to motivation

Top tips for staff motivation in a small business

#1 – Give credit where it’s due

People respond well to recognition, which can come in many forms. It’s easy to overlook but showing thanks in an informal way is very important. Avoid making any announcements that you’re rolling out a new recognition policy because that will come across as inauthentic.

#2 – Lead by coaching

We have a natural aversion to being told what to do, it’s human. Next time you need something, try and ask in a way which gives someone more room for decision-making and autonomy. Translate “I’d like you to do it this way” into “How shall we get this done; what options do we have?” and you are giving someone the opportunity to input. Doing this shows you value their opinion, giving them some accountability for the result of the task, which is more motivating than simply following orders. It also helps them understand the task and allow them to come up with their own solutions, which might be better than yours. #3 –

#3 – Be generous with praise

There’s nothing worse than feeling like your hard work goes unseen. Praising employees generously is easy, costs nothing and goes a long way. Showing appreciation for good work requires careful oversight, so being aware of daily small wins and celebrating them where possible is a great way to show appreciation. Make it a habit to say thank you regularly.

#4 – Avoid direct correction and criticism

Harshly delivered feedback is hugely demotivating. Try an indirect approach when giving people feedback to help them learn from mistakes and work on how to do it better in future. That’s not to say mistakes should be swept under the rug, but it’s also important to read the room and decide whether or not blunt public feedback will go down well. Some people have thicker skin than others, some are more sensitive to professional criticism. It’s important to tailor your approach to each team member. It’s not empowering or motivating to have your boss publicly shame you for a mistake you made.

#5 – Take a moment to celebrate the wins

Group activities to acknowledge important milestones are a must. Getting together reinforces a feeling of purpose and feeds into acknowledgement of everyone’s hard work.

Navigate the highs and lows together – In a business, things will go well and they will also not go so well. When it’s good, say so. And when it’s bad, make sure you’re honest about that too. Being authentic and honest with the people you work with, as a leader, shows you trust and respect them. Keeping everyone onside throughout the business journey is a lot easier if you’re transparent about how things are going.

These tips are based on the knowledge that employees are people, and each person has individual needs and motivators at work. Showing commitment to that through the way you lead and treat them will help foster a highly engaged workforce. It sounds basic but you would be surprised at how many businesses slip into bad habits and assume people are solely driven by a pay cheque. The reality of human motivation is more complex than that. Bringing people into your vision and motivating them to join you as you grow the business is the driving force behind making your long term goals a reality.

Rachel King is UK general manager of HR consultancy Breathe

Further reading

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Tiffany Waelchi

Rachel King is UK general manager of HR consultancy Breathe.

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