How to motivate employees at work

How to Motivate Employees at Work (6 Tips)

I have successfully trained thousands of leaders and managers. One of the common questions I get is how to motivate employees at work. Before I start on how to motivate employees at work. I first want to define motivation.

The dictionary defines motivation as a force, stimulus, or incentive. In general, there are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. We think of motivation as more than the carrot and stick analogy of motivation. Motivation is what moves someone to act, behave or push themselves to reach a goal.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within an individual and we believe this type of motivation is a mindset that positively impacts an individual to reach their goals without external factors (the carrot) impacting them. People who possess intrinsic motivation might say, “I do this because it makes me feel good,” “I do this because it is the right thing to do,” or “I do this because it provides me joy or happiness.”  A student may memorize material as the student understands the material is the pathway toward their future success.

Extrinsic motivation is generally used to obtain a separate outcome. Extrinsic motivation (the stick) occurs to make someone do something. For example, an employee may complete a report their boss asks for and they complete this task on time for fear of what the boss may do or say if the task is not completed in a timely manner.

How can a team leader motivate a team member and keep a team motivated?

The short answer is that is people can’t motivate others. People are already motivated; it is just a matter of understanding what they are motivated to do. However, people do have control over the type of environment they create which may or may not be motivating to certain personality styles.

We use the Everything DiSC® Management Profile to help managers understand the type of environment they create and the motivational needs of the people who work for them. The table below shows the needs of D, I, S, and C styles.

STYLEWhat demotivates this style?How to recognize & reward this style
DToo much routine, lack of forward progress, wading through details, having their time wasted, and being under tight supervision or authority.Give them credit for their work. Offer them opportunities for advancement or more responsibility when they seek new challenges.
IWorking alone for too long and in a slow-paced environment. Working with critical colleagues and not being recognized for their contributions.Let them know you appreciate the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the group. Praise them publicly (if desired), making sure the whole team knows when they have accomplished great.
SBeing in chaotic and environments that change abruptly. Being forced to make quick decisions or to improvise.Offer genuine and sincere praise yet avoid the limelight for them. Encourage them to take on new advancement opportunities when you think they are ready as they may not ask.
CBeing required to work collaboratively and with vague directions. Being wrong or being forced to make quick decisions. Too much emotion will be uncomfortable.Thank them for their high-quality contributions and do so privately. Reward them by letting them take on challenging projects and by working independently.

Tip #1 Create an inspiring work environment

Be sure to understand that team building might be draining for some people. Yes, draining. People who may prefer introversion might find the interactivity of going to a team dinner in a noisy environment to be tiresome. Yet, their extroverted colleagues are just getting their second wind in such an environment.  According to a Forbes article, Google’s strategy for placing food stations every 200 feet in the workplace was designed to encourage people to leave their workstations to interact with other people to encourage collaboration, creativity, and innovation.

However, considering the need of introverts, they need time to be alone, to reflect, and be in their own inner world to recharge their batteries. The idea that Google has set forth, while unique and coming at a big expense is something they feel the return on investment is clearly worth. Could this strategy only attract extroverts? Regardless, Google deserves accolades for making the investment and attempting to create an inspiring work environment.

Even Zappos, who is “just” a shoe company has created a priority for their company culture. Tony Hsieh, the former Zappos CEO, wanted to create an onboarding process that was more than the boring, typical onboarding system. Hsieh stated, “The original motivation for doing it was to make sure that people were there for reasons beyond a short-term paycheck.” In fact, Zappos paid their employees $100 to quit, if they felt Zappos was not the right fit.

Our 90-minute MBTI® Personal Insight workshops are created to allow individuals to explore their personality preferences, gain self-awareness, and see a glimpse into the Team Type. Understanding what one may prefer and seeing the similarities and differences can allow for a deeper understanding of how the team operates. Ultimately appreciating how others are motivated is vital to the health of oneself and the group.

Tip #2 Give your team autonomy

Self-determination theory, or SDT, would suggest that people have psychological needs that need to be met to be motivated. These three areas are autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Even babies learning to feed themselves are demonstrating their own autonomy by refusing to allow a parent to feed them and instead will try to grab the eating utensil to feed themselves. We have a desire to be in control of our own lives. We demonstrate our need for relatedness by attempting to connect with other people. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, people started to resort to virtual platforms like Zoom to be able to connect not just professionally, yet to make a “live” connection with friends and family. Our competence can be satisfied by our continued learning and development as individuals. Our growth can assist us to cope with challenges we may face in our everyday lives.

Tip #3 Focus on the WHY

Finding meaning and purpose in one’s life can be inherently motivating. As of January 10, 2022, Simon Sinek and his infamous Ted Talk on How Leaders Inspire Action- “Start with Why” has reached 57,437,810 million viewers. This puts Simon in 4th place of the Top Ted Talks of all time. People are hungry to find their life’s purpose. What are you passionate about? What is your WHY? What is the legacy you wish to leave behind? Take a few moments to answer the questions below.

My Passion: what am I most committed to in life? What are the things that excite me and make me feel alive, useful, and engaged in meaningful activity and relationships? What issue or cause is an enduring theme in my life?

My Legacy: what do you want your legacy in life to be: In other words, what will remain or continue as a result of your having lived and worked all these years?

My Why: We recommend reading the book Start with Why authored by Simon Sinek to get a jump start on trying to find your “why.” Prefer not to go it alone, sign up for one of our Tribe Sessions. Ultimately what you are trying to get at is the diagram below. Our why at Cooper Consulting Group is to “Inspire learning and leadership development so that leaders and teams can be their best.”

Tip #4 Find out what makes your employees tick

We like to use a purposeful activity when we conduct our MBTI® team workshops. Our expert facilitators will foster a dialogue among the team and ask for feedback with each person answering these questions:

  1. What do you want to be recognized or appreciated for?
  2. How do you want to be recognized or appreciated?
  3. What happens if you do not get recognized or appreciated in that fashion?
  4. Can you answer these questions, without assuming, for everyone on the team?

Tip #5 Team Building Excercises – Do team-building exercises really work?

In short, yes. Team building exercises allow new team members to become integrated into the group in a fun, memorable, and purposeful way. Through decades of experience and research, we have crafted amazing activities that can illuminate different pain points with the goal to create harmony among the team. Based on the outcome of the session desired by the client we will artfully create the best reflective, small group or large group team exercises. We’ve heard many times, “This felt so cathartic.”

What are some team-building activities?

We use a simple activity called “Find your Group.” In this activity, we provide a task and then conduct a group debriefs. The task is simple…we give each person a card with a symbol which they may not look at, nor can they speak at any time during this activity. The card is placed on the person’s forehead while being held so that the symbol can be seen by everyone else around- just not the person holding the card. Somehow, someway people then organize themselves into groups.

We ask questions like:

  • What did you observe about yourself? The group?
  • How did you pick your group?
  • Or how did the group pick you?
  • How does this relate to your workplace? What does this mean?

We go on to ask many more questions, all the while, folks are sharing a variety of aha moments they are gathering. After the debrief, we close by sharing the fable about the Four Oxen, which goes like this:

A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near, they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarreling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field.

Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. Four bulls, which had entered a very strict friendship, kept always near one another and fed together. The lion often saw them, and as often had a mind to make one of them his prey; but though he could easily have subdued any of them singly, yet he was afraid to attack the whole alliance, as knowing they would have been too hard for him, and therefore contented himself for the present with keeping at a distance.

At last, perceiving no attempt was to be made upon them if this combination held, he took occasion, by whispers and hints, to foment jealousies and raise divisions among them. This stratagem succeeded so well, that the bulls grew cold and reserved towards one another, which soon after ripened into a downright hatred and aversion, and, at last, ended in total separation.

The lion had now obtained his ends; and, as impossible as it was for him to hurt them while it they were united, he found no difficulty, now they were parted, to seize and devour every Bull of them, one after another. The moral of this fable is so well known and allowed that to go about to enlighten it, would be like holding a candle to the sun.

A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand; and as undisputed a maxim as it is, was however thought necessary to be urged to the attention of mankind, by the best man that ever lived. And since friendships and alliances are of so great importance to our well-being and happiness, we cannot be too often cautioned not to let them be broken by talebearers and whisperers, or any other contrivance of our enemies (Whittingham, 1814).

Tip #6 Talk about workshops with DISC and MBTI

In our workshop titled, “Inspiring Motivating Managers Workshop,” the DiSC model is used to help managers bring out the best in their people. Using this model in our workshop, participants will learn how their style influences how they manage time, make decisions, approach problems, and what they need to do to adapt to the styles of others to motivate, direct and delegate, and develop each person they manage.

Looking at our session, called “Training Inspiring Leaders” we use the EQ-i 2.0 and the MBTI® is to help leaders build more of an awareness of self and others so that they can inspire those they lead, and be more effective. Employee engagement, productivity, and turnover are often directly related to company culture and individual work styles. In this workshop, we will get serious and play.

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