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It takes more than money to keep employees motivated

Article by Ivy Gura and Chipo Mashava, Audit Seniors at BDO Pretoria

Money can be a great motivator, but it’s not the only or most effective one. Employees who receive an increase can generally be expected to be motivated for a short period of time. If other aspects of their working environment aren’t right, this monetarily-generated happiness will quickly dissipate.

According to Frederick Herzberg’s dual-factor theory, employees may generally be satisfied at work when their ‘hygiene’ or lower-order needs are met with adequate salaries, job security, pleasant working conditions and good company policy. However, they are more likely to be highly motivated when higher-level psychological needs such as achievement, recognition, responsibility, stimulating work and advancement are gratified.

The fluctuating economy and political uncertainty has necessitated that many South African organisations tighten their belts. This means giving regular or large increases is not always an option, even when employees are performing well.

Employers need to know how to motivate their employees, even under the most trying economic circumstances. This is especially the case if they want to retain talent. In this respect, nurturing a work environment that encourages growth and self-worth is critical.

According to former US president, Theodore Roosevelt, “no one cares what you know, until they know that you care.”

 Acknowledgement is key

Everyone needs to be acknowledged. Too often, employees are only noticed when they make a mistake, like the naughty child in school who is always admonished by the teacher. Highlighting employees’ strengths by noticing when they are doing well – and acknowledging it verbally or via written communication – is a powerful motivator. By caring enough to acknowledge an employee, the employer is sending a powerful message that says “you have unique qualities and what you do is important and adds value to the organisation.”

In the same light, no-one goes out of their way to mess up, but mistakes do happen. Wherever possible, employers should work with employees to help overcome their weaknesses when failure is experienced on the job. Acknowledging an employee’s efforts, even in times of failure, ensures that the failure strengthens the employee rather than demotivating them.

Provide clarity on career paths

Employees need to know there is a clear and intended growth path ahead of them. They need to know what steps they can take to move up the ranks in the organisation. Ideally, suitable career paths should be planned in conjunction with the employee. Providing them with a well-defined job description and proposed growth trajectory up-front is a powerful heads-up that they are expected to succeed. Caring enough to help create a career path that promotes their growth, empowers them and makes them more loyal to produce their best work and progress faster.

Training and ongoing mentorship form part of this process. Not only do they benefit the employee by expanding their knowledge and skills, they benefit the organisation by ensuing improved and better informed quality of work. Notably, in South Africa organisations also benefit from tax incentives for every employee they train.

Ensuring that employees are on the right growth trajectory can be assessed through regular performance appraisals. This allows the employer to highlight areas of strength as well as those that need improvement. It also allows the employee to review their growth path and request a move or training that will help them evolve in the workplace.

There is also something to be said for bringing motivational speakers into the organisation to inspire employees once or twice a year. A good motivational speaker can make employees feel like they can conquer the world.

Caring about family and health

The assumption that employees have an on/off switch that allows them to leave work issues at work or personal issues at home is naïve. The truth is much more complex than that. Without going into the psychological examination of the human psyche, it is safe to say the two worlds will overlap from time to time.

Employers who know more about their employees than how they deliver on their deadlines or what type of car they drive will have a head start over those who don’t. Showing an interest in employees beyond the quality of their work can pay huge dividends. An employee who feels his boss is interested in him as a whole person is likely to feel more committed, motivated and loyal.

Giving employees time off when they’ve worked long hours every day or arranging a baby shower for someone’s pregnant wife demonstrates a deeper level of interest and engenders a sense of compassion. When the employer needs all hands on deck in an emergency, there will be many more takers.

In addition, encouraging work/life balance is beneficial to employers and employees. A healthy workforce is a more productive one and healthy employees are happier. Wellness programmes and company outings such as sporting events go a long way towards encouraging healthy lifestyles and building strong teams.

It’s the small things that count

Small, thoughtful gestures can build enormous employee equity such as remembering their exam dates with a ‘good luck’ pack or wishing them well with a goodie bag when they take part in a race.

Knowing what employees do in their spare time and acknowledging their various successes, whether it’s achieving a personal best time in a cycling race, completing a watercolour painting or celebrating a child’s academic success is key to creating a nurturing and productive environment.

BDO is a proud Partner of the NSBC.