How to Motivate Employees: 5 Scientifically-Backed Methods to Get Results

Whether you have one employee or a hundred, keeping them motivated is key to achieving a happy workforce and positive results. It’s not enough as an employer to simply pay them at the end of the month because sometimes, no amount of money can make up for a miserable 9-5.

How to Motivate Employees: 5 Scientifically-Backed Methods to Get Results

It stands to reason that the happier your staff are, the more productive they will be, and the same applies in reverse – unmotivated workers will work more slowly and less diligently, and take more time off, too.

There are plenty of ways in which you can boost their spirits, and therefore productivity, and in this article, we will show you how to motivate employees in 5 scientifically-backed ways that will make sure that everyone’s happy.

1. Give Your Employees Autonomy

Allowing your employees a certain amount of freedom when it comes to their working day can go a long way towards worker-satisfaction, according to Human Autonomy in Cross-Cultural Context: Perspectives on the Psychology of Agency, Freedom, and Well-Being (Springer). This book, written by professors Marylène Gagné and Devasheesh Bhave from Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, explains how autonomy can improve staff commitment, performance, productivity, and lower staff turnover.[1]

But what is autonomy? Well, that can take many shapes, such as allowing employees to set their own hours, work from home, and take their breaks when it suits them and not when they’re told to. In essence, as long as the work gets done, they have the freedom to choose how it’s done.

(Read this: 106 Quotes on How to Be an Effective and Inspiring Leader)

2. Recognize and Reward Their Efforts and Achievements

It doesn’t matter what we do, who we’re with, or where we are – as humans we like to be rewarded. Think back to the days when you would get a gold star at school, or another tick on your reward chart at home; it felt good, right?

The same principle applies at work. Nothing can be more soul-destroying than putting in extra effort only for it to go unnoticed, and yet many bosses do exactly that and then wonder why their employees are so unmotivated.

Leading research published by Harvard Business Review contributor O. C. Tanner Co. shows what a difference it can make to a business when staff members are recognized for the work that they do.[2]

  • They come up with twice as many ideas per month as opposed to those who are taken for granted
  • 76% of employees said that they felt part of a team and had a sense of belonging
  • Workers stayed on average two years longer than those who felt they didn’t get the recognition they deserved
  • A whopping 93% of clients will see a Return on Investment within the first year

Don’t just wait until that big contract has been won, or a lengthy project has been completed – the key to motivating your employees lies in breaking the larger picture up into smaller pieces. Have a daily or weekly debrief and let them know you appreciate their hard work, or arrange a social event to mark specific points throughout the project, for example. These pit stops will encourage them to reach for the next milestone and will give them a vested interest in doing well.

(Read this: 56 Quotes to Inspire Your Employees)

3. Look After Employees’ Well-Being and Health

It stands to reason that healthy staff members are better for business, but many employers leave that to the employee. With illness-related absenteeism costing the US economy $530 billion per year,[3] keeping employees healthy and happy should be seen as an investment rather than a cost. Show your workforce that you care by providing the means for them to get and stay fit and healthy.

While we’re not suggesting that you install a state of the art gym in the office, there are other ways to help them on their fitness journey:

  • Smokers are twice as likely to take time off work, so encourage them to quit by employing the services of a smoking cessation expert.
  • Weight also plays a part in absenteeism, with up to 6 days more per year taken off compared to those with a healthy BMI. If you have vending machines or an on-site cafeteria, overhaul the food choices offered to ensure they are healthy.
  • Encourage fitness by having a ‘walking meeting’. Instead of sitting around a table, take the discussion outside for some much-needed vitamin D and exercise.
  • Offer staff a discounted (or even free) membership to a gym.
  • Don’t forget about mental health. Giving employees access to a coach or counselor will ensure they have someone impartial to talk to, knowing it is in strictest confidence.

While this will pay dividends for your business, it will also show your staff that you value them and want to look after them.

4. Allow More Frequent Breaks

If this sounds counter-productive, bear with me. According to a 2011 study at the University of Illinois,[4] frequent short breaks will increase productivity because our brains can only focus on a task for a certain amount of time before our attention lowers. Of course, once that happens, productivity falls and mistakes can be made.

Go above and beyond what is legally required and let your staff know that they are important by implementing more breaks during the day, allowing them to stretch their legs, make a coffee, or just switch off from the task in hand for a few minutes.

5. Organize Team-Building Activities

With more than 40 years of research behind him, organizational behavior expert J. Richard Hackman found that effective teamwork relied more on environment and structure and less on personalities.[5] This means that no matter how different colleagues are, in the right circumstances they will work together effectively.

Team-building activities are not just a lot of fun, but they will also encourage staff members to interact, cooperate, and work with others who they might not ordinarily come into contact with, especially if it is a large company.

  • Go-Karting is a great activity if you want to get the adrenaline pumping and introduce some healthy competition. Depending on numbers, you could split the teams by ability, pitting the speed freaks against each other, while the more sedate drivers can take things down a notch.
  • Escape Rooms are perfect if you want a less frenetic activity that encourages your team to work together. As they are enclosed in a relatively small space together, they will have no choice but to cooperate with each other if they want to complete the task.
  • Include your employees’ families by arranging a family sports day. Kids are great at breaking the ice, and it’s a fun way of getting outdoors and engaging in a little friendly competition without things getting too intense.

It will also signal to your employees that you recognize the fact that they have a life outside of the office, something that a lot of bosses seem to forget.

(Read this: 69 Quotes that Teach Synergy and Teamwork)

All anyone wants is to be valued and appreciated. Whether you use these techniques or come up with some more of your own, as long as you engage with your staff, show them how much they are appreciated, and reward their efforts – even in a small way – you will be rewarded in return with a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.

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