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10 ways to motivate staff

Top tips for getting the most out of your team

Staff morale is more difficult to measure than sales or margins, but is equally important. Unhappy employees are likely to be unproductive employees so the mental wellbeing and happiness of your staff is crucial for your business’ success. Not addressing this now could be expensive for your company later – either through an inefficient workforce or high staff turnover. However, fostering job satisfaction doesn’t have to cost the earth. Startups spoke to a panel of entrepreneurs to find out their top tips for motivating staff.

1) Treat everyone as an individual

Respect that different employees have different needs. “Every incentive doesn’t necessarily motivate every individual,” says Andrew Backhouse, national contract director at Timothy James, a 2010 winner of The Sunday Times 100 Best SMEs to work for. Get to know each member of staff and show you understand them by being flexible to their personal situations. For example, if an employee is in a long distance relationship, you may want to let them leave early on Friday afternoons. As a result, they’ll be more inclined to put extra hours in during the week to keep on top of their workload.

2) Praise good work and offer feedback

“We believe in public praise. When someone does a good job, we congratulate them in front of everyone,” says Bradley Placks, co-founder of MyResourcer. Regular feedback and encouragement makes employees feel positive – and that will be invested back in to your business. It is important to be genuine, so find something that has impressed you, even if it is as simple as an employee’s presentation, and let them know that they are doing it well. Following employee demand, some companies have introduced six monthly appraisals. This offers a good opportunity to encourage staff, clarify any issues, and re-establish with the employee their expectations of the company and your expectations of them.

3) Lead by example

A productive team needs a productive leader. As the top dog you need to embody the company’s brand yourself and be true to its ethics. However equally important is that employees see you putting in as much energy as them – if not more. “If you always slope off early on a Friday, these small messages have a huge impact on your staff, undermining any formal messages of motivation that you are trying to get across,” says Adrian Moorhouse, managing director of Lane4. “A good leader needs to lead by example, by role-modelling the behaviours that are expected of staff. Be excited by new challenges, show real enthusiasm for projects and demonstrate your love of the job. Positivity breeds positivity.”

4) Encourage people to take a break

Whilst an employee who doesn’t optimise their annual leave might seem like a good deal for your business, everyone needs to take a break in order to operate at their full potential. Approach people who haven’t used their holiday entitlement and encourage them to get away. This will also show employees that you care about their wellbeing. Similarly, some organisations allow employees a few days a year to engage with the community. Michelle Fuller and Chris Russell, co-founders of eDigitalResearch, run a Personal Development Week for their team. “Every employee gets the opportunity to expand their skill set or get stuck in at charity events, to help with their personal development.”

5) Offer benefits that boost morale (but don’t break the bank)

Sometimes it is the little things that count. While large organisations may be able to offer corporate holidays in sunny climes, a gesture as simple as having fruit delivered to the office each week can show employees that you care. Tailor benefits to your workforce. You could bring a masseuse in once a month to give each employee a 10 minute boost, organise a team activity afternoon or a barbeque. “Events don’t have to be expensive, just well-planned and thought out,” says Damian Milkins, CEO of Control Circle.

Where possible, invite staff to bring their partners as well. “Having a good relationship with people’s partners really helps,” says Simon Corbett, founder of Jargon PR. “All those times when people stay late, instead of getting home to an earful, they get a much more sympathetic response.”

6) Give ownership to your team

While new employees need clear instructions and guidance, once they are on the right track, let go of the reins. Leave them to be led by their own initiative and congratulate them for doing so. “Allow them to work well and without much input. It’s the little things that give ownership to teams and allow them to feel trusted and motivated,” says Dominic Monkhouse, managing director of PEER 1 Hosting and a former consultant for The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to work for. As well as inspiring self-confidence, this hands-off approach may allow employees to navigate your firm from a new perspective, potentially exposing inefficiencies, untapped opportunities and prospective innovations.

7) Run a ‘no blame’ culture

“When something goes wrong don’t blame the person; analyse the reasons and change whatever actually caused the issue in the first place – learn and improve,” says John Sollars, founder of Stinkyink.com. If you are always pointing the finger, employees will feel tense, which can restrict initiative and innovation. Even if an employee has committed a serious offence, take it as an opportunity to review your recruitment process. It may be that you are not asking the right questions at interview.

8) Communication is key

By keeping open lines of communication with employees and listening to their ideas, they will feel more connected to the progression of the business and thus more motivated to contribute to its future. As a director, it is easy to get distracted by your own objectives but in the present economic climate it is more important than ever that staff are kept informed about changes in circumstances – including how new legislation could affect the company. Henry Braithwaite, Operations Director of Market Makers, recommends twice weekly meetings “when the whole company comes together and shares the successes of the week and what is going on in the company as a whole” as well as an “open door policy” to the manager’s office. Simply showing employees that they are being listened to can be enough to boost morale.

9) Be flexible

Whilst all companies need employment agreements in place to set standards, be prepared to be flexible to reasonable requests for additional leave. Respect that your employees have personal lives to balance with their work commitments and don’t put additional pressure on them when, for example, they have to pick up their children, take care of a sick relative or leave early for a washing machine to be delivered. To avoid completely forfeiting their labour, assist employees with flexible working by helping them to receive their work e-mails on their smartphone or home computer. If you want to be particularly generous, IT company acs365 recommends offering staff additional leave on their birthday. “As part of your commitment to acknowledging the importance of work-life balance, a paid day off is the best present you can provide to staff. This type of initiative helps to create a positive work culture, improving and uplifting staff morale,” a spokesperson says.

10) Get the little things right

Sometimes getting the little things right is more influential than an occasional grand gesture. It is easy to underestimate the importance of basic essentials for a positive working environment. These may include well-maintained toilets, basic kitchen facilities and filtered tap water – conveniences that don’t cost the earth. “It is often possible to quickly fix many of the day-to-day gripes that bother your employees. Listen to what your employees are saying about their workplace and concentrate on these first,” says Laetitia Monereau, head of HR at Simply Business. “You need not spend a vast sum of money improving your staff morale.”

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