Motivating your team when traditional reward levers aren’t available

Julia Kerr Henkel, MD of Lumminos, offers 10 ways to maintain enthusiasm in tough times.

While you and your team might have embraced the need to summon up additional energy during the first year of the pandemic, many people seem to be feeling depleted now. And it’s now that we need to dig deep as we head into the pandemic’s second year.

So how do you motivate yourself and others to keep going and remain focused and energised? What measures and incentives can be offered when some of the traditional carrot/stick motivators of a bonus, promotion, stock options, shareholding or additional leave, for example, aren’t available?

At its most basic, motivation speaks to a person having a willingness or reason to take certain actions that will move them forward, and set goals. This may be driven by outside forces (extrinsic motivation), such as a business sales target, or inspired from within (intrinsic motivation), based on what the individual deems important. It is important to understand and address both.

For any relational system to remain in balance, the principle of fair exchange is necessary. In other words, what is offered by way of time, expertise and skill, and what is received in exchange by way of salary and recognition, needs to be reasonable and equitable. When the exchange ratio is out of balance, low motivation and unproductive behaviours often follow.

Much has been said and published around the topics of burnout, digital fatigue, anxiety about job security and various responses to employee mental health and wellbeing. Any employer has a duty to take reasonable care to avoid foreseeable psychiatric or psychological harm to their staff in the same way that they have to ensure physical safety measures and processes are in place.

Take a look at these 10 ways to motivate and inspire staff for the long haul of 2021:

Irrespective of the phase you’re in:

  1. Triage (deal with critical issues that pose threats to the team or company), stabilise (consistently address issues identified within and across teams) and institute long-term care (vision, goals, values, trust, belonging and motivation). Consider mental health and employee wellness as part of your monthly health and safety risk assessments, dashboards and management discussions. Develop surveys and a stable, yet simple, set of indicators to be measured, to get a consistent health check of where your people are.
  2. Cultivate your courage and care culture, and advertise access to support. Be sure to promote and encourage staff to use any counselling services offered so they know where to go and who to talk to internally or externally if they are experiencing difficulties. Consider enrolling qualified coaches and internal mental health champions, or other health care practitioners.
  3. Ready, set, recognise. Recognition creates an emotional connection between employer and employee – a critical piece of employee engagement – and fulfils an employee’s basic needs of esteem and belonging within a group. It can be inexpensive (a gift voucher, personalised gift, donation to a charity, grocery drop-off or restaurant voucher) and in some cases essentially free (a well-crafted email or handwritten note). The focus is on intrinsic rewards.
  4. Express gratitude and release feel-good chemicals. Though similar, gratitude is different from recognition. While recognition is about acknowledging specific individuals and their work, gratitude extends much further. It involves being thankful for and present to what we have in life – things like health, family, even challenges. Gratitude has been proven to elevate mood by releasing dopamine and serotonin, two of the brain’s feel-good chemicals.
  5. Build the case for face-to-face, eye-to-eye contact when online. While remote working can prove challenging to gauge the state of mind of an employee, encourage all staff to turn their cameras on, even if for a portion of an online meeting in order to connect and to be able to assess body language, emotional mood, language tone and general energy levels.
  6. Develop your listening skills. Ask each person to check in one-by-one based on anchoring questions like: What is top of mind for you right now? How is your body feeling? On a scale of one to 10, where is your energy level? Listening actively to what your people are saying and listening for what is not being said, are both vitally important.
  7. Hand over the keys to the car. Autonomy and trust are by far the most important motivators. Trust is the foundation of relationships, especially in business. Let your people own their work and ask for help rather than you driving the process the entire way. This builds relationship and allows others to feel that, as the leader, you are there to help instead of constantly pushing your own agenda.
  8. Zoom in on vision. During this time, never skimp on any opportunity to reiterate and emphasise your team and company’s vision. This ‘why’ and reason for working as hard as you need people to is most effective when displayed and referred to regularly in a simple, visual format using images, icons, phrases and key numbers, so people can see what they’re being motivated to move towards.
  9. Champion friendly team competition. In the interests of promoting fair play, novelty and livening things up, consider hosting a competition linked to a business challenge. Mix up the members into cross-siloed or departmental teams, get each team to pitch and agree to the prize within your defined budget, and let the healthy games begin. Remember to reward team behaviour, not just individual behaviours.
  10. Get in the habit of positivity and self-praise. Are you one of those people who naturally creates an atmosphere that’s positive and optimistic about the future? It’s been shown that people who foster positivity and self-compassion, while being realistic about their reality, abilities and failings, are great to be around because their enthusiasm is contagious and reinforces feelings of purpose and fulfilment in themselves and others.

 While there’s no one-size-fits-all way on how to motivate your employees for our new world of working, experiment with some of the ideas mentioned here and see how they can shift possible unproductive dynamics and stalemate scenarios in your teams and meetings.