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Your employees are your most valuable assets and managing them is critical to your business, albeit challenging. This is especially true for small businesses where employee productivity is a serious concern. However, you cannot blame the employees alone for lower productivity. Employers too play a significant role in motivating their workforce to become more productive at work. After all employee satisfaction plays key role in boosting productivity and can finally impact the company’s bottom line.

Often small business owners think that they lack the money or other resources required to meet their employees’ needs. But this is far from being true. Most employee motivation strategies require little or no financial investment. They are mostly a matter of simple management adjusting practices. Besides, there are strategies that need financial investment and they are usually returned by enhancing employee productivity.

What Makes Employee Motivation Challenging?

Small business owners often face a mammoth challenge to keep their people motivated at work, especially in environments that fail to make employee satisfaction a part of their core business strategy. While these businesses are aware of the fact that they draw their power and success from the best their employees have to offer, they feel unsupported when it comes to develop motivated and contributing employees.

In fact, a number of issues sap an employee’s motivation and also affect his/her productivity, including:

  • Low self-confidence of an employee: Confidence acts as a motivation enhancing factor for employees. It contributes towards an employee’s willingness to continue to complete tasks with total dedication. But the lack of it makes a person feel unworthy and unable to make decisions and to remain motivated at work. It even stops an employee from forming good work relationships. Such employees also tend to procrastinate more.
  • Employees’ lack of interest in the subject matter: An interested employee is more likely to take action; he/she will be curious about a given task and would work harder to perform it well. An employee who lacks kin interest in the subject matter, on the other hand, is less likely to fully engage in the work and usually perform poorly. It is often challenging to motivate such employees.
  • Employer’s low expectation for success: Positive expectations from our workforce again work as a motivation factor. High expectations of the employer often motivate an employee to do better on-the-job performance. This even increases their self-esteem and makes them more willing to accept challenging assignments in the future as well. Low expectations, in contrast, make the employees feel unmotivated and hey eventually tend to underperform. Besides, employers who have no or low expectations from their employees are less likely to invest in tools and resources necessary to accomplish a given task. This further diminishes the employee’s motivation.
  • Fear of failure: No one likes to be a failure; but an employee who fears failure will tend to avoid work in which he/she lacks confidence. Such employees usually perceive a lack of success as failure and would rather prefer avoiding tasks than experiencing shame due to their inability to accomplish a goal. The more they fear failure, the less motivated they are likely to be.
  • Achievement anxiety: People who experience such emotions are sensitive to punishment. Even mere criticism can de-motivate them. Achievement anxiety usually inhibits employee behavior and such employees are less interested and less motivated in completing a given task and to achieve organizational goals. They often begin a task but stops before completing it should they happen to become anxious regarding potential negative feedback.

A lot of these factors are directly related to the workplace environment, work conditions and work culture. Employers usually tend to recruit the best available talent to achieve organizational goals and success without realizing that it is also essential to look beneath the surface and consider the workplace environment these talents work in.

It is therefore imperative for employers to implement certain changes in their core strategies in order to boost employee productivity.

What Should Managers Do?

First thing first, get over it. There is no workplace environment that perfectly supports employers and managers’ efforts to help their employees become motivated at work. Challenges prevail even in the most supportive work environments. The good news is you can enhance employee motivation and boost productivity, irrespective of the work culture of your organization, should you try to extend your reach and create a work environment that encourages positivity, harmony and recognition.

Now the question arise: what are the things that motivate people?

Influencing Your Employees’ Motivation

Employers and managers can take small, daily actions to increase employee satisfaction to motivate them. According to SHRM 2014 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, the top aspects contributing to employee job satisfaction are compensation/pay, job security, opportunities to use skills and abilities, relationship with immediate supervisor, benefits (especially health care and retirement benefits), organization’s financial stability, and the work itself. Besides, there are several other contributing factors that are considered “Very Important” by employees.


Businesses, small and large, should therefore try to take management actions in and around these areas to motivate employees to become more productive.

Motivation Methods that Small Businesses can Implement

There are certain specific actions that can increase employee motivation. While some of the motivation strategies are industry/area/demography specific, there are some ubiquitous methods every organization needs to follow in order to improve employee motivation. The best motivation efforts focus on factors that are important to employees.

Employees (even within the same organization or department) have different motivators. It is therefore essential for organizations to have flexibility within the work scope and reward systems that are designed to enhance employee morale and improve productivity.

The following are some employee motivation methods small businesses can implement without investing a lot of money or resources.

Employee Empowerment:

One of the best ways to motivate your people is to give them more responsibility and decision-making powers so that they have enough realm of control over a given task. This simple strategy goes a long way to diminish frustrations arising from being held responsible wrongfully for something over which one does not have any control (e.g. lacking proper resources to carry out a task). Besides, you can divert energy from self-preservation to better and improved task accomplishment by empowering your workforce.

Learning Opportunities:

There is a reason why multi-nationals and large enterprises invest in employee learning programs. It is a great employee retention policy that also helps you to motivate your people to achieve more by enhancing their skills. All you need to do is provide required tools and opportunities to your employees to accomplish more. Chances are most of your staff will take on this challenge.

Accreditation and licensing programs are effective in escalating employee knowledge and motivation and are in great demand. Thought leadership and management education also provides a deep understanding of business to your employees and can improve their attitudes toward the company and clients, while boosting self-confidence.

However, providing trainings and learning programs is not enough. You must ensure that employees are able to apply the knowledge gained to accomplish their work and further benefit their career utility. In other words, the acquisition of knowledge must be worthwhile for both the employee and employer to influence motivation; otherwise it is just wastage of time and effort.

Encourage Innovation and Creativity:

Companies where employees hesitate to express their creative ideas to management for the fear of being ignored or worse, ridiculed can hardly make it to the list for employee motivators. In fact, both the employee and the company suffer from such practices.

A better approach is to push the power down to line personnel. Give opportunities to employees who know the jobs or products/services best to use their ideas for further improvement. Encourage exchange of insightful information and ideas among your employees and departments. This way you are using your employees’ experience more wisely and making them feel valued and wanted.

It will not only bolster employee motivation within the organization but also help in creating a more flexible working environment as it creates an openness to change. Furthermore, you will gain the ability to react fast to market changes as well as gain first mover advantages in the marketplace.

Financial Incentives:

According to the SHRM 2014 survey, compensation/pay tops the list of aspects that contribute to employee job satisfaction. Money holds a major place in motivating employees to become more productive. It is therefore no surprise that many companies share their profits with employees in form of incentives.

Providing financial incentives to employees motivate them to produce a better quality product, offer quality service, and/or improve the quality of organizational process. It is essential to make your workforce realize that what benefits the company also benefits them directly. You can provide monetary incentives for various purposes, such as:

  • Generating process-improving and cost-savings ideas
  • Reducing absenteeism
  • Enhancing productivity

On the down-side, the motivating effects of money (although effective) are short-lived. In addition, it must be made available to all employees (based on his/her contribution towards the success) otherwise it can prove counterproductive. You should therefore couple monetary incentives with other, nonmonetary motivators which brings us to our next method.

Nonmonetary Incentives:

Studies indicate that nonmonetary incentives are effective tools for motivating employees. As mentioned, there are certain downsides of using monetary systems as motivators. Expectations, in such cases, often exceed results; besides, disparity between salaried individuals can divide them instead of uniting the workforce.

Nonmonetary incentives that serve as positive motivators include responsibility, recognition, and advancement. Employers and managers also need to recognize employees’ small wins in order to promote participatory environments. In addition, it is imperative to treat all employees equally with fairness and respect to create highly motivated working environment.

Other effective nonmonetary rewards include time off from work, letters of commendation, enhanced personal fulfilment, and sincere praise from peers and the higher management. Such personal gestures are by far most effective employee motivator. When combined with monetary rewards, these programs have potentials to satisfy intrinsic and self-actualizing needs of your workforce.

Quality of Life:

The U.S. is the world’s most overworked developed nation. In fact, the number of working hours each week is increasing for American workers. Reports suggest that full-time workers in the U.S. are actually working 47 hours weekly. As a result, most workers don’t have a quality life beyond the workplace. This has an adverse effect on an employee’s morale and productivity.

Companies with flexible employee arrangements can easily get away with such negativities and motivated employees for increased productivity. Many are incorporating programs like flextime, job sharing, and condensed workweeks to help employees meet the demands of their respective private lives and at the same time accomplish the given tasks at work successfully.

Specific Actions for Bolstering Employee Motivation

Here are a few consequential ways that will help small businesses to foster employee motivation and improve productivity.

Effective and Responsible Communication from Management Boost Motivation

If there is any information your employees need to know to successfully perform their jobs, communicate that responsibly and effectively. Make sure they have enough information to make good decisions. Also, remember that keeping your employees in dark won’t help you in the long-run. You should therefore make your employees aware of changes being made within the organization, before it’s too late. The following are some best practices you can implement:

  • Update your employees about company information, especially if it is likely to impact their work following each management meeting.
  • Discuss about customer feedback, changing due dates, training opportunities, product improvements, change in interaction structures or departmental reporting with employees.
  • If certain employees are particularly affected by a recent change, talk to them personally or stop by their work area to communicate more. Your goal is to make them clear about the change and what it means to the organization and to them as well.
  • Foster the habit of daily communication with every employee, especially those who reports to you. In addition, hold one-on-one meeting with them once a week and encourage them to come prepared with troubleshooting ideas, questions, information and/or requests for support that will further help to improve productivity.

Interaction with and Attention from Senior Managers Motivates Employees

A study by Towers Watson called the Global Workforce Study emphasized the roles senior managers play “in attracting employee discretionary effort”. The study indicated that businesses need to maintain employee engagement over time and a few ways to do so include:

  • Communicate openly, frequently and honestly. Senior managers need to hold meetings with all employees periodically and demonstrate the interest work area of individual employee.
  • Small businesses should also implement an open door policy and encourage staff to discuss concerns, share ideas and talk freely.
  • Congratulate employees on their personal life events such as wedding, new babies, purchase of new house or cars, inquire about vacation trips, and more to connect with them and establish one-on-one relationships.
  • Take your staff member to interesting and unusual events such as stress management trainings, motivational seminars and workshops.
    Cross-train your employees in other roles and responsibilities.

Improving Employee Productivity at the Workplace

There are certain factors that can help improving employee productivity. By focusing on these factors you can not only boost efficiency but also create a highly motivated work environment.

Accountability: Make sure all employees are aware that they are accountable for every action and decision they take. This also diminishes the practice of blaming others if things go wrong and your employees will work more meticulously.

Follow up: As an employer your work is more than setting targets. You need to follow-up with staff members and make sure that progress is sufficient. If not, take interim measures to salvage a situation before it’s too late. Following up on regular basis also helps in keeping your employees on track.

Say ‘NO’ to Micromanagement: While it is important to follow-up on your employees, micromanagement is something you must avoid. Provide direction and give assistance as and when required, but also trust your employees and on their capabilities to carry out the task successfully without your interference. Give them freedom and let them do things their way to deliver results.

Giving freedom to your employees not only keeps them happy and motivated but also encourages them to perform better. Micro management, on the other hand is detrimental to such achievement and a continual practice will make your employees too much depended on you for direction and they are less likely to learn to think for themselves.

Reach Out to Your Employees: Everyone likes to be heard and your employees are no exception. Although it sounds really appealing, don’t try to appear a larger than life and distant figure in front of your employees. This is especially applicable for small business owners and new entrepreneurs. You should look one of them and more humane so that your employees can warm up to you and feel happy working for you.

Make extra efforts to reach out to your staff members, if possible, even beyond the work place for better engagement.

Wrapping This Up…

Motivating employees is a never-ending cycle of encouraging, engaging, rewarding and recognizing your workforce. All methods, strategies and actions we have discussed so far are designed keeping this factor in mind. As an employer you need to connect with your people, share words of encouragement, help them move forward in their career and make them feel happy about working for and with you.

Be innovative as well as genuine in your approach to motivate them, no matter how simple and small the gesture is. Most importantly, value them as there is no shortage of better opportunities out there. And your employees will take no time to start looking for greener pastures, if you don’t value them enough.


Avatar for Mark Feldman
Mark Feldman

Mark Feldman is the chief technology officer at that helps customers easily schedule employee shifts using their web based application through which sharing employee schedules online with your employees becomes seamless.

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