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Where can we find post-Christmas motivation when it’s needed?

Sharath Jeevan OBE

A motivated workforce is key for business success. It’s been reported that engaged teams increase business profitability by 21%. With the unprecedented and uncertainty the workforce has experienced in the last few years, from the covid pandemic to the cost of living crisis, many leaders are already contending with a motivational crisis among teams. 

Whilst the Christmas holiday period offers everyone some much needed down time to recharge and come back to work motivated, this can quickly begin to dwindle as January drags on. Many people will begin to feel weary causing disengagement and depleted performance, especially when coupled with personal challenges too. 

This begs the question, how can we engage and inspire our workforces in a challenging and uncertain world? 

Be fully available and  “in the moment” for your team
An absent leader can quickly cause teams to become jaded and disengaged, so it is crucial to be completely present when having discussions with teams by turning off emails and other distractions. Ask teams questions and follow your curiosity in order to learn from their broad and varied perspectives which may challenge and impact your own. Teams are usually much closer to the ground than leaders, so listening to their insights can help inform you while making your team feel valued. This inspires their sense of purpose within an organisation. 

Make them feel valued through recognition
With a study finding that when leaders were not recognising and appreciating their employees, they were 42% less likely to be engaged, it is key leaders make teams feel appreciated and valued. Another global study of 200,000 workers found that 79% of people cite lack of appreciation as their reason for leaving a job – demonstrating the significance that gratitude has on people’s feelings towards their organisations and work.  

When experimenting and sharing ideas with management, employees are making themselves vulnerable. They should be rewarded with recognition to show you value their contributions and skills. It is key to let them know when their views have impacted your perspective and thank them for their ideas in order to spark their excitement in sharing things with you and boost their confidence in exploring new ideas in the future. This will help in framing their perspective of work as a place of excitement and potential. 

Take a step back from hygiene factors
Hygiene factors or extrinsic motivators such as pay bonuses and fancy office spaces are often used in an attempt to motivate teams. Often leaders place too much emphasis on the use of incentives as motivators. 

Covid-19 demonstrated how overinvestment in extrinsic hygiene factors, as opposed to things that drive true purpose, can be counterproductive as well as hugely expensive.

Tech giants across the globe built gleaming work ‘campuses’ with state-of-the-art facilities and even paid for employee coaches to shuttle their employees to and from these campuses and their homes. Yet following covid, many of these impressive work spaces are left half empty as many employees still choose to work from home – so how much of an impact do these expensive factors really have on employee motivation? Leaders must rethink what employees seek from work. 

Focus on purpose
Purpose should be the destination we put into our inner-GPS in our work. Our current obsession with ‘work-life balance’ has distracted us from the core question of purpose, resulting in stress and burnout more than the actual hours of work does. 

Leaders must ensure that staff keep seeing and feeling the impact they have on the lives of customers and clients, especially when returning after a holiday period. Keep regular touch points and create real pride in areas like customer support and service through sharing success stories. 

Give teams autonomy
A ‘winner takes all’ attitude in the workplace often results in rigid targets, promotion opportunities or performance based bonuses. These extrinsic rewards remove flexibility from individual career paths and stifles creativity and individuality. Leaders must work to harness purpose and recognise individuality in progression in order to maximise employee autonomy. Give staff more control over their work. Help them make faster and clearer decisions, and improve collaboration processes so staff feel empowered to make a difference.

Nurturing managers can help establish ‘guided autonomy’ as part of company culture. For example, employees could keep a time diary to record and report, allowing them to progress how they like each day. 

Listen and understand employee’s work and life contexts
Returning to work after holiday periods is always challenging, but the current political and economic climate is likely to make 2023 particularly difficult for many due to personal worries and responsibilities. Take time to check in regularly with employees on a one to one basis to get a strong idea of what they might be struggling with and use this to inform support you can offer them rather than offering generic, blanket support to everyone. 

With employees who feel their voices are being heard being 4.6 times more likely to perform their best work, the value of listening for leadership teams is evident. 

Encourage deeper connections
The transition we have experienced in the last few years towards hybridism has been welcomed by many; allowing more flexibility and room for personal commitments. Although their preference might be to continue working hybrid or remotely, they may be left feeling disconnected. Hybrid conditions have made work more transactional, and in a similar way to online dating, the shift towards virtual can create relationships that can lack meaning and personal connections. 

Leaders are responsible for creating a collaborative environment where teams feel connected rather than isolated. 

Through focusing on these key factors, leaders can encourage intrinsic motivation in teams that will inspire high levels of performance as well as employee satisfaction.

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