The following is an excerpt about what to do and what not to do to improve employee motivation in the workplace from the book “Inspiring Workplaces – Creating the Kind of Workplace Where EVERYONE Wants to Work” by Michael Kerr.

Inspiring workplaces are places where people feel motivated to perform at their best potential and to contribute their ideas for the betterment of the organization.

Inspiring leaders understand that there are no motivational shortcuts. Pep talks, team building activities and salary perks all have their place, but creating a highly motivated workforce is not the result of a one, ten or even twenty times a year event.

Stoking a fire once every three months is a surefire recipe for burnout. To keep the workplace flames burning bright the fire that drives people’s passions need to be continuously stoked.

Employee motivation training produces inspiring motivators and inspiring motivators understand some basic motivational principles …

It all starts with a positive work environment.

  • Carrots outperform sticks.
  • Different things motivate different people.
  • Intrinsic motivators outperform external motivators.
  • People want to be appreciated and recognized.
  • Celebrating milestones generates momentum.
  • Small is beautiful.

It All Starts With a Positive Work Environment

Let’s recap the entire book thus far: Assuming you’ve hired the right folks for the right jobs, then happy, positive working environments create happy, positive workers.

It doesn’t get any simpler than this. Everything starts here. If your basic workplace environment is poisoned with toxic bosses and distrust and high levels of stress, then all the motivational perks in the world aren’t going to make any difference to the performance of your employees.

And happy, positive work environments are created when…

  • You hire positive, talented people
  • You match people to their best talents and passions
  • People are given clear, challenging goals and an exciting vision
  • People are given the tools and training they need to do the job well
  • Communication is open, honest and respectful
  • Humour and creativity in the workplace thrive

The importance of starting employee motivation training with these basics cannot be overstated. You may have a very upbeat, positive work environment, but if someone is put into a position where they feel mismatched and overwhelmed, then obviously motivation will suffer. Likewise, if people are not given clear direction, or not provided with the proper tools and training, motivation suffers. And motivation most definitely suffers when reward incentives are seen to be unfairly distributed. Even monkeys understand this one.

A research study reported looked at rewards offered to capuchin monkeys in exchange for simple tasks they performed. To receive a slice of cucumber, the monkey had to give a small rock to the researcher. When their fellow monkeys began to receive greater rewards for those same small rocks, their performance declined. Some refused to take the rewards, even tossing them back. And when monkeys got rewarded for doing even less work, the monkeys really went bananas.

By not focusing on the fundamentals of a positive, inspiring work environment, organizations often inadvertently do more to suppress motivation than they do to fire it up. In other words, there are probably more “off switches” than there are “on switches” and inspiring leaders understand that creating a highly motivated workforce is not just about finding the carrots, it’s about preventing the off switches:

  • Internal politics.
  • An absence of open communication.
  • Promoting someone that “everyone” knows is incompetent.
  • Authoritarian leadership. Idea squashing.
  • Rewards not visibly tied to performance.
  • Rumors.
  • Abuse of powers.

The list of potential de-motivators goes on and on, and serves as a reminder that ensuring the basics are in place is the first step in creating a truly positive, motivated and inspiring workplace.

After all, what can be more motivating that working for a truly inspiring workplace?

Copyright 2011, Michael Kerr. Excerpted from the book “Inspiring Workplaces – Creating the Kind of Workplace Where EVERYONE Wants to Work.”