As a small business owner, you wouldn’t be where you are today without your team. Whether you’ve brought on full-time W2s or hired 1099 contract workers, your people are a big part of your business’ success … or failure.
Engaged employees work with passion, drive everyone around them to do the same, and feel profoundly connected to their company.
On the flip side, workers who are either not engaged or disengaged can wreak havoc. Whether they’re simply unhappy and do only what’s required of them or show up and waste time while on the clock, these workers often aren’t just bad workers—they make everyone else miserable too.
So, how do you keep your employees engaged and happily working for you?
It begins with knowing how to motivate employees. When you know what inspires your team to do great work and what compels them to show up every day, you can strive to create the kind of workplace they wouldn’t ever want to leave.
Here’s how to motivate employees and inspire them to give their very best for your business.
1. Know your employees
Before you can roll out the right employee motivation tactics, you must first know what kind of employees and contractors you’re working with.
To gauge your employees’ engagement levels, start by sending a brief and ask questions such as:
- Do you feel your job provides you with a sense of meaning and purpose?
- Do you feel challenged and stretched in your role?
- Do you see positive results because of your work?
- What do you see as the company’s greatest strengths?
- How do you feel the company could improve?
If you can afford it, consider having a third party conduct one-on-one interviews or employee focus groups. When workers can give their feedback in a conversational way to someone other than their boss, they may feel more comfortable sharing their honest thoughts.
2. Look beyond money for employee motivation
When considering ways to motivate employees, don’t focus solely on money. While reliable payroll is certainly an important part of the job, money isn’t the biggest motivating factor for most workers.
Three in five Americans would take a pay cut if it meant they could work at a job they love—even if they had to reduce their current income by half, according to a study by Lexington Law:
Americans are twice as likely to value benefits, personal interests, company culture, and growth opportunities over salary when choosing a job.
If your workers are unhappy on the job or disengaged with their duties, don’t assume a bonus or pay increase will fix the situation. Instead, it’s better to seek other ways to reignite their spark.
3. Provide meaningful benefits
Your small business may not have the capital to compete with the robust benefits packages of larger companies, but this doesn’t mean you can’t offer enticing perks.
You have the freedom to give your workers whatever makes them happy—whether that’s flexible hours, a free afternoon off, or a relaxed dress code. Ask your employees what matters to them. Maybe they would appreciate a day off from work to volunteer once a month or perhaps they would value Friday lunches with the team.
It doesn’t necessarily take a large investment to offer valuable benefits. The key is to ask your employees the benefits they would like to see. Determine what perks fit in your budget, offer them as often as you can, and you’re on your way to building a motivated, happy team.
4. Get creative with perks
When it comes to the benefits that employees value the most, Justworks found that:
- 45% want health benefits
- 38% want vacation or paid time off
- 37% want a 401K, retirement, or pension
- 26% want perks like flexible schedules or gym reimbursement
- 20% want paid parental leave that extends beyond maternity options
Traditional benefits, however, aren’t the only way you can motivate your team. Instead of providing full medical benefits, consider partnering with a local hospital or clinic for free flu shots and health screenings. It’s a way to show you care about your team’s health and wellness without going beyond your budget.
If you want to cultivate a fun and health-focused environment, you don’t need to offer an onsite sports facility, putting greens, basketball court, and soccer fields like Nike offers at its corporate headquarters. Instead, you can build camaraderie by hosting Fitbit competitions. Give the winner a fun prize, such as an extra hour off work.
5. Involve your employees
If you want your staff to care about your business as much as you do, don’t just assign them tasks to complete—get them involved in the bigger picture. Ask employees to weigh in with their thoughts on how to improve the business.
Find out what they think is working well and what they would change.
Before making decisions, consider offering your team a few options and letting them vote. Whether you’re choosing a color scheme for your store or deciding what items to put on display, get some input from your employees.
It’s also important to let your employees know that you trust them to represent your business. If you’re going to an event in the community, ask them to go with you. Let them be the face of the company.
When you give your workers a chance to contribute to your company’s development and growth, you show that you value their opinions. You’ll often find that they’re willing to go the extra mile when they feel heard and respected.
6. Create a positive work environment
Whether you’re running a bakery or a bicycle shop, the atmosphere at your business can significantly impact employee motivation. If workers feel as though you play favorites with some team members or that you’re unavailable to speak with them directly, they won’t feel inspired to invest their best effort on the job.
Establish an inspirational work environment by maintaining an open-door policy and sticking to it. Make sure your employees—including contract workers you may not typically see face-to-face—know they can approach you anytime.
As a leader, your management style affects everything around you. be sure to treat your team members fairly in all circumstances, whether you’re assigning weekend work schedules or divvying up store responsibilities. In a positive work environment, everyone feels important and valued.
7. Set appropriate goals
Workers often feel motivated when they have a specific goal to work toward. When creating goals for your employees or contract workers, make sure they are clearly defined and achievable.
If you’re establishing goals that will take some time to accomplish, be sure to incorporate milestones or check-ins so your team can see their progress along the way. This will help them stay focused and motivated to achieve the goal.
It also helps to have a system in place to help you create, track, and achieve business goals. You can explore a variety of goal-setting and tracking tools such as GoalsOnTrack, which offers to-do lists, time tracking, and accountability partners, or Lifetick, which allows you to manage goals and reminders through a dashboard.
8. Give your workers flexibility
Your team members—W2 employees and contract workers alike—have obligations outside of work. You can respect these external commitments by creating a flexible workplace that promotes a healthy work-life balance.
Think about how your small business can provide flexibility. Can you give your workers more control over their work schedules? Perhaps you can let them perform certain tasks remotely?
Flexibility is one of the most desired work benefits, yet most workers are still trying to gain some flexibility in their schedules. In a study on flexibility in the modern workforce, Harvard Business Review found that 96% of professionals say they need flexibility, but less than half (47%) have it.
Even if the nature of your business doesn’t allow for work-from-home opportunities or designated at-work hours, you can still make other adjustments such as letting workers come in early to leave early. When your team members see that you care about them and you’re willing to work with them, they’ll naturally be more invested in their jobs.
9. Show your employees appreciation
Employees who feel appreciated are more likely to feel motivated at work and continue to perform at a high level. Those who don’t feel valued are often less productive.
If you don’t make time to regularly express appreciation, your best workers might walk out the door. Global studies show that 79% of people who quit their jobs do so because of a lack of appreciation.
It doesn’t take much to say “thank you” or let your team members know they matter. Make a spreadsheet with dates to reach out one-on-one because it’s easy to forget to show appreciation amidst the busyness of running a small business. You could also feature workers on your website for reaching an impressive goal or host an awards ceremony that recognizes workers’ different talents.
When you show you appreciate those who have chosen to work for your business, you make a big difference in improving workplace motivation and productivity.
10. Foster fun in the workplace
When looking for ways to motivate employees, don’t forget to incorporate some fun. Workers who have fun on the job are often more productive and engaged.
You can infuse more fun into the work environment by hosting staff parties, treating everyone to lunch when it’s an employee’s birthday, or getting the team together after work to watch a sporting event. To spur some ideas, check out this list of 40 team-building activities that are sure to fuel the fun at your business.
No matter how you decide to boost the fun factor, your team will benefit.
Spending time with coworkers in a relaxed, fun environment encourages trust and open discussion.
The more fun you can bring to your business, the more comfortable your workers will feel communicating and collaborating. They’ll start to see each other as friends rather than simply people who work together.
Employee motivation matters
Your team is one of your most valuable assets, whether they work alongside you every day as W2 employees or they get the job done remotely as contract workers.
Employees who are motivated not only help you expand your bandwidth as a business owner, but they consistently bring fresh perspectives and ideas that can help progress your business. They enjoy coming to work every day and they see value in what they do.
It’s not enough to simply expect your team members to show up and do their best work. After all, it isn’t their business—it’s yours. To truly motivate your employees, you must look for meaningful ways to ignite their enthusiasm and make them see how they play a role in your business’ success.