Workforce Motivation: Where’s the Sweet Spot?

In my experience, there are three things that provide the most motivation for an employee to produce at a higher level. Two of these things can be provided by the employer, but one of them is something that the employee must already possess:

Trust: If they trust their coworkers and management to treat them honestly and fairly, that takes a great burden off their shoulders, because if the environment is such that you do not have that level of trust which allows you to put all such concerns out of your primary focus, as an employee, you will always be looking over your shoulder, always second guessing management’s agenda or which coworker will try something underhanded that will negatively affect your job.

I’ve worked in hostile environments where you have to look over your shoulder and triple check your work, just to make sure that your boss’s agenda hasn’t changed or that your work adheres to his/her specific agenda that may or may not mean that you have to abandon the most effective course for the course that they believe is most effective. I’ve also worked in environments where my input is highly valued, my leadership has demonstrated their integrity and trustworthiness. Its a whole new world when you can have that level of trust in your leadership and it’s more than higher pay to a great many people.

Ethical clarity: Workers who have personally established a high ethical standard for themselves tend to work harder and more diligently for their employer because they want to provide their best work and earn the respect of their coworkers and employer. People with higher ethical standards also tend to feel a greater sense of loyalty towards those employers who have earned their trust (tie-in with the first item).

Compensation: Especially in today’s environment, most employees will work harder and more diligently for you if they perceive that they are being exceptionally well compensated for their efforts. Now that “compensation” doesn’t have to be limited to raw salary numbers, it can be both tangible and intangible:

Recognition for successes or achievements at work.
Giving them the tools they need to excel, heavy multitaskers absolutely need tools such as two or more monitors at their workstation, providing a decent set tools or equipment that save them time and effort in the course of their daily work shows that you value their time and are concerned about the need not to waste it by giving them tools that make their job easier.
Having Medical or other benefits that directly benefit them and their families away from work.
Achievement bonuses of some kind.
Set reasonable goals and provide rewards that they value for achieving them.
Set even higher goals to give employees the opportunity to excel even further and provide tangible rewards for being an “over achiever.”
The key here is that the rewards must be something the employees themselves value, otherwise you are seen as insincere and phony.

Conclusion: Someplace within these three categories you must find a balance between motivating your employees and keeping the bottom line moving forward and there is no cookie-cutter template for you to follow. Sure, many consultants are out there that will “teach” you that one approach or another is more effective, but in the end it all depends upon the makeup of your staff and what is truly important to them.

The real challenge is in making your approach genuine and tapping into and delivering what your employees truly need. I can’t tell you how many times an employer of mine has put forward half-hearted attempts at motivating their employees. Don’t think for a second that cheesy attempts at pumping your employees with praise that is never followed form of real benefit is not immediately recognized for what it is: Empty flattery substituting for substantive compensation. That way lies ruin.

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