Motivating Employees in Challenging Times

Labor shortages across the country are creating tremendous challenges, and small businesses have been some of the hardest hit. Now more than ever, a focus on retaining current employees is essential to keeping your business stable and successful. If you are struggling to keep employees motivated and excited, we’d like to help! Over our years working with countless NiteHawk customers, we’ve observed that there are three primary reasons an employee will be unmotivated to perform the way you need them to. Here we discuss each reason and provide insights on how to keep your team strong, happy, and successful.

Group 1: Stuck in the Present

Sometimes an employee loses enthusiasm for their work because they have trouble seeing a future. Their thinking is this: without a great future ahead of me, does what I do now even matter? This individual has usually faced discouragement, either personally or professionally, and has lost belief in himself. Perhaps they presented a good idea that was never implemented or maybe promised opportunities for advancement never materialized. Maybe health challenges or problems at home are keeping them down. These are good people looking for a reason to do better, and they may not even realize how or why they are stuck.

The key to motivating these individuals is straightforward and frequent communication, followed by action. In private meetings, or with others when appropriate, highlight the positive things this person contributes to the work. Reward forward-thinking, and when an idea doesn’t fit in the overall strategic plan, follow up to explain. If possible, change pay structures to incorporate bonuses for real improvement based on measurable metrics. Show them you recognize their contribution to the team and take a genuine interest in their wellbeing. If you don’t feel like this toward your team, look in the mirror and find a way, because you are one of the obstacles blocking their motivation.

Group 2: Ready to Go, but Not Sure Where

The second group of unmotivated employees can see a future with the company, but the overall structure is not in place to appropriately reward them. There may be a lack of training resources or procedures to help them grow into new roles. Or perhaps you have the resources, but other projects have taken priority over this individual’s growth. Not only does this dampen employee motivation, but also it prevents a company from achieving its objectives in the long run.

As Cuba Gooding’s character Rod Tidwell said in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money!” To confront your company’s internal barriers to employee motivation, start by reviewing the compensation structure of your sales team, supervisors, or whoever seems to be losing steam. Find ways to reward for performance, not for potential. As you increase available rewards, keep your expectations clear. Holding the line can be difficult, but it will weed out the team members that don’t want to perform and provide a spark to the ones that do.

Group 3: Nothing Left to Give

The last type of unmotivated employee may be the most disappointing but the simplest to deal with. Some people, for whatever reason, demonstrate that no matter what structure is in place, they are not going to give you any more effort. If you’ve given them a chance with some of the above suggestions, and their behavior doesn’t change, the solution is simple: fire, replace, and focus your attention on the people who really want to do better.

While each employee’s situation will be a bit different, this is your key takeaway as a leader: you’ve got to know your people. Take time for one-on-one discussion, explore how people feel about their jobs, and ask what would motivate them to improve. Get to know them not just as employees but as people, and find out what’s going on in their lives besides work. Understanding and identifying your employees and what motivates them is the key to developing a productive and efficient team.