I have lost count of how many times a leader has asked me how to motivate their group of employees during my career. There is often this belief that there is some secret trick that can make a team magically boost productivity by 700%. The truth is that all employees are motivated. Employees do not wake up in the morning and think “I am going to do less because I do not want to earn more money or get a promotion”. Ironically, it is often the leader that demotivates their staff via their actions which leads to an employee’s performance dropping. So, what can a leader do to make sure an employee remains motivated and engaged at work?

Pay your people what they are worth

Do you want to know the easiest way to have a disengaged workforce? Pay them less than they are worth. Note that I said pay people what they are worth and not pay them a huge salary. This is the key difference. As long as an employee knows that they are paid fairly, you will not have an issue with motivation. I always think back to a leader I worked with in a previous organization when I discuss this topic. This leader would boast that the people in their team were only paid $40,000 when their expertise should have been worth $80,000. Strangely, this leader could not seem to understand why 100% of their team would leave every 12-18 months and that they could not get the business results they wanted.

Provide a great work environment

A large amount of research supports the idea that people will happily stay with a company that pays them an average salary if they have meaningful work and a supportive work environment. That’s right, people will turn down a pay rise elsewhere, if they are happy and engaged in the workplace. The reverse of this is also true, you can pay someone a huge amount of money, but if the work environment is bad, they will still leave regardless of what you pay them.

A great work environment does not mean that a leader needs to rush out and provide pool tables, a PlayStation, and bean bag chairs for all of their employees. It means they need to provide a person with meaningful work and a purpose in a supportive work environment. Research shows that a large number of employees feel that their work is not appreciated and / or they do not understand how the work they do contributes to the company. A leader should help their employees feel valued and that the work they do matters. All employees should also have a clear learning and development plan so that they know if they stay with the company they will also grow professionally.

Set clear goals and reward employees for meeting them

One of the easiest ways to motivate an employee is to set clear goals and objectives for them and reward them for achieving the targets. It provides everything an employee needs to be motivated, meaningful work, a purpose and recognition and reward for achieving the required outcome. These goals need to be achievable though. One of the fastest ways to demotivate an employee is to provide them with a task that they do not think can be achieved. Why would they bother to work hard if they know it cannot be delivered? Likewise, not rewarding them for delivering is also terrible. Why should they work really hard when there is no benefit to them at the end of it?

Manage the team properly

Did you know that a piece of research showed nearly 40% of employees would rather do unpleasant work rather than sit next to a micro manager? Almost half of all employees would rather do something they hate instead of sitting next to a bad boss. Set your team goals and let them figure out the best way to get the job done. It is the best way for the team to learn and also allows employees to feel like they are empowered to complete their own work.

Finally, it’s also critical that you provide a safe space for your employees to fail. If you have a blame culture, where as soon as something does not work you start singling out people to blame and criticize them, they are not going to learn and develop. A blame culture results in employees not trying to do anything new, they end up playing it safe. A leader should want their employees to learn new skills, but failure is part of that learning curve. Do not punish that failure, instead encourage them to learn from it and try again.