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Want to motivate employees? Get back to basics

Motivation. It’s a relatively simple word, but encouraging it among your employees can be a challenge. Maybe that’s because, fundamentally, enthusiasm must come from within. It’s not something you can implant in someone externally. For this reason, employers sometimes need to get back to the basics of employee motivation to identify the right ways to inspire their workforces.

Maslow’s hierarchy

Every employee has needs. Some just want to do a good job and go home happy. Others want to earn as much money as possible. Determining what will drive each person may boil down to figuring out what makes him or her tick as a human being.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a “hierarchy of needs” for humanity. Those needs, as they apply to the workplace, are:

  1. Physiological: Being able to earn enough to acquire food, shelter, clothing and other survival necessities is usually an employee’s most basic need.
  2. Safety: Having a secure and nonthreatening work environment, safe equipment and job security is the next most basic need.
  3. Social: Once physiological and safety needs are met, employees typically are looking to fulfill higher-level needs. The first of these is generally positive relationships with managers and coworkers and feeling like part of a team.
  4. Ego: Being recognized and rewarded for good performance is considered the next level of need.
  5. Self-actualization: At the top of the hierarchy of needs, when it comes to the workplace, is realizing dreams by using one’s talents and potential.

By figuring out where your employees are on the hierarchy of needs, you can determine the best ways to motivate them.

Team behavior

Let’s assume that your organization is meeting at least the two most basic levels of employee needs. That means it’s time to focus on the socialization level — making sure your employees feel a sense of belonging. First, use strategic communication (such as conferences and meetings) to share goals and performance information. Provide employees with feedback to make them feel they’re contributing to these goals and the organization’s success.

Team behavior should extend throughout the organization. Remind managers that excessive competition between employees defeats teamwork and may even damage customer service. Motivating employees to take initiative and challenge themselves achieves better results.

Let employees know they’re important team members. Something as simple as greeting people by name can make all the difference in the world. Also, be sure to thank individuals and departments for their hard work and reward their contributions.

Of course, employees need more than “hello’s” and “thank you’s.” Build on the positive work environment you’ve created through effective HR strategies, positive discipline, fair treatment and clearly defined policies. Augment these efforts with training and reward programs, fair appraisals, competitive pay, attractive benefits, and occasional team-building activities.

Consistent effort

It’s hard to pinpoint what will motivate every employee. But, by and large, employees want to take pride in their work, feel like they’re part of a team and receive positive recognition from management. For other ideas and information, please contact us.

© 2018

Laura L. Stover, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, lstover@sek.com

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