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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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20 Innovative Ways To Keep Your Employees Motivated And Ultimately More Productive

As the company owner, you have that entrepreneurial streak, that will to succeed. You can see the big picture and have a clear view of where you want the company to be in 5 years time.

The big problem comes when you can’t seem to translate that enthusiasm and drive to your team. They’re qualified and hardworking, but they just don’t really seem that fussed what happens to the company. You want them to be resilient, driven and – above all else – as motivated to succeed as you are.

But how do you get your team motivated and productive when they’re involved in the daily drudgery of making things happen? Don’t worry, we’ve got 20 ideas to help you out.

1. Incentivise quality

A handshake and a thank you are nice, but money in the wallet is one of the best motivators of employee success.

You can:

  • Focus on aspects of work quality over speed, or you risk encouraging staff to cut corners in order to perform faster.
  • Create a multi-tiered system where employees earn badges or tokens for meeting certain goals. These are then added up at the end of the year to determine some bonus or prize. Rather than one huge goal, breaking things down into smaller chunks helps your team to achieve more.
  • Build performance incentives into your salary package so your team know upfront what they can potentially expect.
  • Openly discuss and set the goal post for incentives with your team each year, so everyone is on the same page.

2. Sell the company to your team

Enabling employees to buy stock in the company (or making vested shares part of their salary package) can be an incredible way to empower and motivate your workforce. Your team have a literal stake in the company, so they will directly profit from the company’s success.

As part of Xero’s employment package, all full-time staff are given shares in the company that vest over three years. It’s another reason why it’s so cool to work here!

3. Encourage learning

Get your team excited to learn new skills. Continually stimulating the brain with new information helps keep your team sharp, as well as showing them you’re serious about developing their careers:

You can:

  • Discuss team members strengths and weaknesses and where they might have gaps in their learning.
  • Take suggestions for potential plugs to skill gaps in the team.
  • Offer time for directed and self-directed learning, by setting aside time for staff to attend classes or work through online courses.
  • Investigate certification for various skills, so that team members can gain qualifications that reflect their skills.

4. Support and encourage new ideas

Create an environment where employees can make suggestions for improvement at any level of the business. Making suggestions or sharing ideas is a sign your employees care about the company, so celebrate and reward this! 

You can:

  • Implement an online or physical “suggestion box” allowing everyone to post suggestions (and remain anonymous if they wish).
  • Approach team members directly to ask them if they have any ideas.
  • Allow your team members to run with their ideas as time and cost allow – even if they don’t end up with positive results, there will be valuable lessons learned.

5. Offer flexible work times

These days, work/life balance is a huge consideration for employees. With families, friends, hobbies, personal projects, startups and other commitments to juggle, having the flexibility to enable work to fit around life – instead of the other way around – can be a huge motivation to succeed.

Also, on a physiological level, different people function better at different times of the day. Some get their best work done first thing in the morning, while others can power through in the late evening.

You can:

  • Allow team members to choose flexible hours – starting earlier in the morning, or finishing later.
  • Allow roles to be cut and changed to fit schedules, eg. new parents moving down to part-time hours, role-sharing, or enabling people to work longer 4-hour days.
  • Instigate a self-management model, such as that employed at Buffer. Team members don’t have an office, or even set hours. They work as much as they want and choose and manage their own projects. Extreme, yes, but the team is extremely motivated and are producing amazing results!

6. Recognise talent and hard work

When people perform at their best, one of the greatest joys that can be derived is when someone acknowledges their hard work. If employees see you actively and tenaciously celebrating their achievements, they work harder in order to continue to prove their worth.

You can:

  • Call out impressive work in a monthly newsletter, on your webpage, or at a company meeting.
  • Align your recognition platform and incentives to your company values – focus on awarding those who live the company values.
  • Gather feedback from clients after jobs have been completed and use this as one factor in your decision.
  • Ask staff to nominate team members who are excelling in their roles.
  • Create an annual award ceremony to recognise these achievers, and give out trophies and prizes. Make a big deal out of it, as though it’s the Oscars.
  • Enter team members into industry awards, and encourage them to hunt out potential awards.

7. Celebrate personal milestones

It’s great to come to work on your birthday, or when something awesome has just happened to you, and feel the support and teamwork all around you.

Recently, one of my novels hit the USA Today bestseller list, so I brought in a cake for the team. It’s nice to be able to share good news with those around you – it makes going to work an enjoyable experience, and happy employees are motivated employees.

You can:

  • Order a cake or savoury treats when a team member celebrates a birthday. If your budget doesn’t stretch this far, then make it part of the culture that each person brings in a cake on their birthday.
  • Keep a supply of branded “treats” for different common milestones. This way you can buy in bulk and save. I used to work at a charity that had a division that looked after guide dogs, so when someone announced they were expecting a baby, they’d get a little soft toy dog branded with the company logo.
  • Dedicate a section of the monthly company meeting or company newsletter to various milestones and “woohoos!” Encourage employees to dob each other in when something awesome happens. You can even draw out one name from the woohoos each month for a special treat.

8. Pair everyone up with a mentor

And I do mean EVERYONE. At Allen & Gerritsen – a brand strategy agency in Massachusetts – CEO Andrew Gaff has paired his entire team up with mentors. His mentor is 22-year-old technology strategist Eric Leist. Gaff believes that mentorships are a valuable tool to motivate staff and encourage learning, and that you’re never too old of experienced to learn something new.

You can:

  • Create an in-house buddy system as part of your onboarding process to help new recruits learn the ropes.
  • Do what Gaff did and pair up every member of the team with a mentor.
  • Or, create an non-compulsory leadership and mentoring programme that team members can choose to sign up for if they’re interested in growing their skills. This can be a great way to identify and nurture future company leaders.

9. Be transparent with the numbers

Most employees have no idea how their company is actually performing in the marketplace, unless something goes either spectacularly well or devastatingly wrong and they end up in the media. Instead of keeping the numbers under lock and key, share them with your team.

You can:

  • Hold a monthly meeting where you present a slideshow of the numbers for the month. This enables staff to ask questions and for you to present only a fraction of the most important KPIs.
  • Make all board reports, strategy documents and other information available on the staff intranet.
  • Ensure these documents are in accessible formats so everyone can have access to them who wants it.
  • Encourage staff to ask questions or talk to you about company performance.

10. Explore nature

They don’t call it the “great” outdoors for nothing – being outside really is quite wonderful. And, being in nature offers numerous health benefits that can improve the wellbeing of your team. According to scientific studies, being outdoors can help cure depression, strengthen immunity improve focus and overall outlook, and make you happier.

You can:

  • Instigate “walking meetings”: Instead of sitting around a boardroom discussing this month’s plan, why not discuss it on a walk around the nearby park. Just be careful you’re not focusing so hard on next year’s projections you miss the curb!
  • Have regular team-building days: that incorporate outdoor activities, such as ropes courses, archery, or kayaking.
  • Create comfortable outdoor areas with trees, plants, and seating, where employees can go to enjoy a nice day.

11. Don’t let boredom sink in

When I get bored, I get restless and fidgety, and that’s when I start staring out the window and thinking the grass is greener on the other side.

You can:

  • Regularly switch around tasks within a team so everyone gets experience with different jobs.
  • Help employees to manage their schedules so they have variety during the day.
  • Ask people if they’re bored, and if so, what would make them excited about their work.
  • Encourage employees to look for other opportunities within the business – ie, secondment to another department.

12. Create security

No incentive structure or “thank you” is going to help motivate your team if they don’t feel secure and happy in their work. True leaders make their team members feel safe, as they know their job is secure, their opinions are acknowledged and considered, and their personality is not open for ridicule.

You can:

  • Ensure staff working early or late have a plan in place in case something happens.
  • Share continuity plans with staff and implement their feedback.
  • Be open and transparent about company or economic issues that may impact the company.
  • Ask for staff ideas to help cut costs or generate new income if things are looking lean.
  • Protect jobs because you protect anything else.
  • Demonstrate that everyone is working together for shared goals by being present to your staff.

13. Encourage a little friendly competition.

Competition can encourage team members to work together, pool their strengths, and light a fire under their asses.

The keyword here is “friendly.” You don’t want to tie results to bonuses or other benefits people rely on, and you don’t want a competitive spirit to get out of hand. Keep competitions for special occasions or to create a rush of productivity – too many, too often and staff will start feeling pressure.

You can:

  • Help boost morale through tough work periods by dividing staff into team and making a competition out of who can complete their allotted tasks the fastest. The winning team gets a free lunch on the company.
  • Have different departments compete in an office decoration competition at Christmas-time.
  • Make some social club events costumed, with a prize for the winner.
  • If you don’t want staff competing against each other, then have them work together against the clock. Sometimes I get together with 10 other writers for a “100k sprint.” We each write down the number of works we write in a day, and add the totals up to see how long it takes the team to get to 100k words total. We log our scores and try to beat our last time.

14. Start a new traditions

Traditions give people grounding, and can be a nice event to look forward to. They create wonderful memories for staff that help them to want to stick around for many years. They also improve motivation as they approach and people get excited about the event.

You can:

  • Create an event that’s not centred around the holidays. This helps break up the year (especially any particularly grueling patches) and gives people something to look forward to. I’ve been with companies before who celebrate the day they were founded.
  • Start an annual food collection, toy drive or other charitable donation, where everyone in the company can get involved in a big or small way.
  • Create a simple tradition, such as a few drinks on a friday night or a boardgames luncheon every month.

15. Explore the outside world

Inspiration comes from everywhere, and the best inspiration doesn’t come from the four walls of your cubicle – it’s about real people in the real world doing things.

You can:

  • Bring office staff to job sites for regular visits so they can see how things work on the ground.
  • Spend time with your customers in focus groups and other events in order to understand them on a deeper level.
  • Encourage staff to attend conferences and other events to learn what others in the industry are doing.

16. Create a napping retreat

We’ve written before about the positive health and motivational benefits of a short nap during the day. Well, if you think your team are looking a little sleepy, it might be an idea to institute a napping policy.

You can:

  • Transform a room or corner of your office into a napping retreat or quiet space.
  • Encourage employees to set their own schedules so they can work during their times of peak efficiency.
  • Stock the kitchen with healthy, energising snacks and drinks.
  • Bring in a post-lunchtime yoga instructor to help staff recalibrate.

17. Force career paths (or swords, since we’re forging – let's call them career swords)

The blade of a career sword is sharp, and expertly crafted – right from the perfectly weighted pommel, on through the carefully folded blade to the sharp tip.

Staff who have direction and can see their future ahead of them feel confident and safe. This in turn makes them more motivated to do their best work.

You can:

  • Encourage staff to slay their dragons and forge their own career swords by mapping out their 5 and 10-year plans.
  • Restructure roles, teams and progressions in order to make the path clearer.
  • Encourage team members to consider other roles in the organisation, and even actively put them forward for such opportunities.

18. Host a “Pets at Work” day

Everyone loves their “furbabies” – some obsessively so! (I write this, with one cat sleeping on my foot, and the other one trying to bat the cursor on the screen). Pets make people happy, and bring a sense of family and companionship to the office.

You can:

  • Have a rotating schedule where different people are allowed to bring their pets each day (in order to prevent a cacophony of epic proportions).
  • Adopt an office pet, such as a rescue kitten who can live in the office and come home with you at night.

19. Encourage creativity and innovation

People love to have an outlet for their creativity, even if they’re not naturally inclined to generate one zany idea after another. Foster an office environment that encourages creativity to flourish, and so will your team.

You can:

  • Dig deeper to find less-than-obvious solutions to problems.
  • Encourage people to build on the ideas of others and add their own spin.
  • Be inquisitive – ask questions, listen, and keep an open mind.
  • Have a platform – such as a slack channel – where your team can share creative projects, articles and ideas they discover online. A lot of clever concepts develop from sharing and discussing what others are doing.
  • Encourage self-directed projects that inspire the creativity of the whole team – such as a poster-a-day design project for a graphic design agency. Post your creations online and enjoy a bit of extra attention for your brand.

 

20. Create mini CEOs

This is an idea borrowed from Brian Halligan, CEO of marketing software firm Hubspot. When an employee comes up with an innovative idea, Brian will fire that employee from their current position and appoint them the CEO of their own in-house startup.

This is a really innovative way to keep company structure flat and encourage and empower leaders on your team. As Brian told Inc. when discussing his mini CEOs, “we want to empower the edges of the organisation, and we want to let the people who really understand our customers make decisions.”

How do you motivate your team in your company? What motivation ideas do you intend to implement to help your team achieve at the top?