Staff Motivation Secrets

By: Kristin Clarke, CAE

Three inexpensive ideas you can use to raise staff morale today.

A study of 220 companies during the past 20 months revealed that almost two thirds have experienced lower employee engagement levels. That inspired workplace consultant Bob Nelson to ask, "What did the other one third do to generate focused excitement and energy at work?"

The answer, summarized in his book Keeping Up in a Down Economy: What the Best Companies Do to Get Results in Tough Times, could save organizations thousands, even millions, of dollars in lost productivity and talent.

"Right now, 54 percent of employees say they are planning to find a new place to work when the economy improves, and 75 percent of younger employees say, 'I'm out of here,'" Nelson says. "So you've got to deal with [engagement] in the midst of this economic challenge," especially "when traditional incentives such as higher pay, better titles, and promotions are off the table."

He offers three actions associations can take to motivate staff today:

1.  Have a clear, compelling direction, but be ready to "retool goals and make them more relevant to the current marketplace." "There's nothing more demotivating than to try to be reaching goals set last year when there's no chance of making them … and the same is true if goals are too easy," says Nelson.

2.  Engage people at specific behavioral levels. Involve them in decisions and idea generation; communicate honestly and directly; and align business goals with what you need from them as a career strategy.

3.  Follow up, recognize, and reward high performance. Nelson notes that one organization gives employees permission to "call in well" one day per year at their discretion to "clear their heads and get re-excited about work." Most effective (and free to boot)? "Writing a thank-you note or telling someone they did a really great job," he says.

Nelson's most surprising research finding was the impressive amount of professional development invested in employees by high-engagement organizations. "The reality is … you need to get more done with whom you've got already, so it's an opportune time to learn new skills, try different areas of the organization, and learn new responsibilities that would help grow the organization's skill set that, in good times, could lead to new opportunities," Nelson says.

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is a writer, editor, and researcher for ASAE & The Center. Email: [email protected]

Bob Nelson will speak about low-cost, no-cost strategies for creating a motivational work environment May 7 at ASAE & The Center's Finance and Business Operations Symposium in Washington, DC.