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Getting Motivated About Employee Motivation

Between a pandemic response that upended how and where we work to an influx of a new generation of workers, what makes work, well, work for people has changed dramatically. Reports of the “quiet quitting” trend, where workers do the bare minimum to stay employed, have managers wondering, “How do I motivate my teams to go above and beyond, driving the innovation we need to achieve our mission?” And, in the government space, you layer on top executive level mandates to strengthen and empower the federal workforce and drive diversity, equity, and inclusion – and even the most well-meaning managers can use a little help getting motivated about motivation.

The first key to maintaining a motivated workforce is understanding that it’s completely normal to become demotivated from time to time. Understanding that demotivation is not a failure but a reality will help set the tone for how your organization responds to it. That response has to be a balance of communication and action.

Talk Matters

Studies have shown that too much communication is better than too little. Under-communication shows a lack of caring, while overcommunication, though potentially annoying, signifies that leadership cares and is trying. Of course, the amount of communication will not compensate for messages lacking empathy or action. Communication should center around determining the root cause of demotivation and addressing issues openly with the entire team as a means to finding solutions.

Look for the Helpers

In addition to seeking out why people are demotivated, it’s just as important to find the people who are going above and beyond. What drives them? Why are they high performers? These employees need to be cultivated into ambassadors. A study found that people’s connection to an organization (and subsequent buy-in to the success of that organization) is tied closely to who they interact with. If they go to people who have a positive outlook about the workplace, they tend to take on that same outlook. Pair your high performers to mentor or work with new recruits to build that positive connection early.

Build Motivation into Training

Required training and mandatory meetings are at times the more demotivating aspects of office life. Again, accept this reality and rethink how these meetings should run. Use them as another communication opportunity – both to share information and gather feedback. Recognize that these meetings can be dull and add in more fun or relaxed elements like icebreakers, GIFs in presentations, food, and more to show that “we’re all in this together.”

Publicly Recognize Great Work

Go beyond coffee gift cards and once-a-year bonuses and tap into the social media phenomenon, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Find creative ways to publicly recognize success and high achievers. Add a “featured employee” post to social media calendars, call out people at meetings, include praise for above and beyond work in newsletters and emails. Seventy percent of employees say that motivation and morale would improve massively with increased recognition from managers.

Small Goals, Big Results

Setting a goal tied to the completion of a project could mean waiting weeks, months, or even years before it is achieved. Instead, tie goals and rewards to incremental progress within a large project. Another tactic is setting goals for the team that may not even be directly related to the project on which people are working. This could be a step challenge to get people moving and taking more breaks from their desks, a call to take a colleague out to lunch this month (and we’ll pay for it), or offering a reward for updating some important but often ignored documentation within a week. These small successes and recognitions will unleash competitive energy that will translate to other areas of work as well.

Whether it’s an annual bonus, promotion potential, or just a pizza party on Friday, employees need incentive to kick their work into a higher gear, but the incentive reward has to have a value to the employee to be effective. Regular communication loops will help inform incentive plans and provide a check on what motivation strategies are working. Embracing that motivational lows are normal will help create a wave that lifts all employees to higher levels of effort and enjoyment in their daily work.

As the founder of GovEvents and GovWhitePapers, Kerry is on a mission to help businesses interact with, evolve, and serve the government. With 25+ years of experience in the information technology and government industries, Kerry drives the overall strategy and oversees operations for both companies. She has also served in executive marketing roles at a number of government IT providers.

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