32 ways to motivate employees

A good job is hard to find, but every entrepreneur knows a good employee is even harder to keep. As an entrepreneur, you have to ensure your company is staffed with people who look forward to coming to work every day for more than a paycheck.

happy workersThrough the years, I found that it was easy to keep employees motivated — all I had to do was provide them with a leader worth following and tasks worth fulfilling. But after almost seven years in business, I still find myself searching for new ways to maintain productivity while providing each individual with the drive they need to perform to the best of their ability.

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Support new ideas. When employees come to you with an idea or a solution to a problem they believe is for the betterment of the company, it’s a sign that they care. Supporting new ideas and giving an individual the chance to run with it is motivating, whether or not it works out in the end.
  2. Empower each individual. Every individual contributes to the bottom line. Empowering them to excel in their role, no matter how large or small, creates a sense of ownership that will lead to meeting and exceeding expectations.
  3. Make things interesting. I get bored easily, so I assume my employees also have a short attention span. Host a cupcake bake-off, plan a happy hour, start a push-up contest in the middle of the office or allow a different person to run the weekly meetings to break the monotony. We recently switched from every-other summer Fridays off to weekly summer Fridays off after a company-wide challenge set earlier in the year. Employees were so elated at the opportunity to start their summer weekends a day early that productivity has risen ever since. Shaking things up every now and then is a good way to break up the day-to-day routine of the work schedule.
  4. Celebrate personal milestones. About seven years ago, as a company of fewer than 10 people, we celebrated each employee’s birthday, work anniversary, engagement and even personal milestones. Today, as a company of more than 100, we still celebrate these milestones. It never gets old!
  5. Listen. This is probably the easiest thing you can do for an employee yet it can also be the most difficult. Carving out some time each day to listen to anything from concerns to ideas will not only make your employees happy, it will also provide you with much-needed insight on your business from the people who help keep it running.
  6. Get personal. This one is tricky because there is a fine line that cannot be crossed. However, showing concern and interest in the lives of each employee goes a long way.
  7. Encourage friendly competition. A competitive environment is a productive environment. Encouraging employees to participate in competitions or challenges is healthy and may actually lead to increased camaraderie.
  8. Allow pets at work. My two dogs come to the office every day, and all my employees are welcome to bring their pets to work. Pets make people happy and bring a sense of companionship to the office.
  9. Reward accomplishments and offer incentives. Everyone wants to be recognized. The acknowledgement of a job well done coming from upper management or the owner of the company will mean more to an employee than you think. And when a pat on the back or a high five just won’t do, monetary incentives always seem to hit the spot. Knowing ahead of time that there’s a $500 prize on the line or extra vacation days to be given away will make achieving goals that much more worthwhile.
  10. Create attainable goals. Setting goals are important, but ensuring they aren’t set too loftily by the employer or employee will help determine whether or not the goal is achieved come year-end evaluations.
  11. Be clear with expectations. Don’t leave too much to be determined. Set clear expectations so you can plan for specific results.
  12. Encourage individuality. Everyone is different. Encouraging individual personalities to shine through will not only help create a diverse and dynamic culture, it will also foster an open and accepting work environment. We have a lot of characters here at JBC – the more the merrier.
  13. Be a leader worth following. This point falls in my lap alone. If my employees don’t perceive me as a worthy leader, how can I expect them to believe in our mission and help to achieve it?
  14. Set an example. Or two or three. I can’t expect my employees to do anything that I wouldn’t do. I always ask myself if the expectations that I set for my employees are comparable to the expectations that I would set for myself.
  15. Encourage learning new skills. Times are changing. Ensuring that every willing employee has the opportunity to learn a new skill or brush up on an old skill will benefit everyone involved.
  16. Foster creativity. A creative environment is a thriving one. Encourage creativity and watch your business flourish as thinking outside of the box becomes the norm.
  17. Give credit where credit is due. Although employees come to work to complete their appointed tasks, it’s still an accomplishment if they do it well. Recognize their hard work by shouting them out to the entire company.
  18. Create a career path. Having an idea of what lies ahead is the ultimate motivation. Employees who have a path set before them that may lead to promotion have an incentive toward a goal. This will lead to increased commitment to you.
  19. Start a tradition. Our annual Thanksgiving potluck is so greatly anticipated that some employees hold off on vacation to participate and attend the event with their work family. Every holiday season, we host a toy drive for a school in the Bronx. Employees from across the U.S. fly in to partake. Start a tradition and keep it going.
  20. Keep an open mind. I’m always open to new ideas and new methods. Anything new is worth exploration and consideration.
  21. Encourage laughter. Laughter is contagious — help spread the joy!
  22. Embrace change. Fighting change is harder than embracing it. I have practiced this more recently with social media and living in the digital age. I encourage my employees to do the same. Embracing, rather than avoiding, new methods will ensure your business and employees stay ahead of the competition.
  23. Recognize strengths. Bringing out the best in people is a talent every entrepreneur should strive to master.
  24. Be available. It’s easy to get sucked into a CEO schedule, but it’s just as easy to take a few minutes out of each day to talk to an employee who may not be on your calendar.
  25. Manage everyone individually. Everyone is different, but some are so different that they may require a personalized management style. Knowing your employees on an individual basis is the only way to know how to manage them effectively.
  26. Encourage ownership. The success of a business lies in ownership. When employees feel invested in a company, productivity increases.
  27. Promote unity. As much as each employee needs to be able to stand on their own two feet, they also need to be able to work in a team. Promoting unity will help achieve individual and team goals.
  28. Have patience. Entrepreneurs tend only to be interested in results. Patience will prevent you from expecting too much too soon and will allow employees to complete tasks properly.
  29. Be flexible. Things don’t always happen as planned; when employees see that you are open to going with the flow every once in a while, tensions ease up and productivity remains constant.
  30. Provide balance. A lively work environment promotes a good time, but balance is just as important to maintain levels of productivity — and the sanity of coworkers.
  31. Cultivate a positive work environment. There is no place for negativity if success is to be achieved. A positive work environment is the result of positive leaders.
  32. Give them a reason to come to work — every day. Showing up to work five days a week, ready to exceed expectations, requires a level of loyalty that can only be achieved if morale is high.

An employee who enjoys coming to work is a worthy investment.

Contributed by Bryan J. Zaslow through a partnership with US Bank.