6 Smart Tips to Take Employee Motivation Beyond Carrot and Stick


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You know the carrot and stick model. We learn it in pre-school. If you do what the teacher says, you get gold stars. If you don’t, no gold stars for you. We carry that reward and result model throughout our educational system, handing out awards and scholarships to the achievers.

Then we carry that so-called motivational model right into the workplace.
In many businesses—maybe even most—the carrot is the reward and management is the stick.

A recent Gallup poll lays out the numbers. Of the 80,000 plus U.S. workers surveyed, only a little more than 30 percent said they were engaged at work. Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

Something clearly isn’t working, and experts say we’re using a model that was created for an industrial economy. That was an extrinsically motivated (by something outside of themselves—think paycheck) any-warm-body-can-do-it type of workforce. Show up at the factory, work eight hours, make the widgets, get the check.

Today, in our thought economy, every warm body brings different levels of education and skills to the table. And they’re more motivated intrinsically (by something inside of themselves—think purpose, self-achievement, competition, etc.) Show up at the office or the restaurant or the store, work eight or ten or 14 hours, create an idea, change the world, make somebody’s day. The check can come from anywhere.

So what motivates them? Today’s employees want and expect a startup workplace that provides them with opportunities to grow and proper coverage, and it’s up to you—startup owners and managers—to give it to them if you want to get the good ones and keep them.

And if you’re still walking around with a carrot and stick approach, the first step is to examine your own attitudes. One way to do that is to challenge your assumptions and beliefs about what does (and should) motivate today’s employees.

Many companies today are using motivational tactics that seem outrageous to diehard carrot-and-stick believers. But today’s employees expect them and if you don’t offer them, you’ll eventually lose your good staff to a company that does. Remember, in today’s economy, the check can come from anywhere.

Here’s a list of motivators. Choose a few. Try them.

Encourage new ideas
Really encourage them. When a staffer comes to you with an idea to make a better widget, bite your tongue before you let “we tried that already” pass your lips. Instead, look for ways to let them run with it. If it works, great! Motivation happens along with it. If it doesn’t work, okay. Failure can motivate, too. Idea squashing does not.

Become pet and children friendly
A pet-friendly workplace is highly attractive to many, especially millennials. Finding a way to let employees bring pets in (once a month or every day) is a motivator that says, “Our company cares about you and what you care about.” Take a look at paid maternity leave and onsite daycare where employees can drop off their children. Care is a motivator.

Start the weekend early
If your business is Monday-Friday, consider winding down early on Fridays when you can. A British Airways study reports that most of us mentally clock out about 2:39 p.m. on Friday. Use this knowledge to let your staff know they can go early on Fridays if their desk is clear. Or invite them to hang around the office and socialize with co-workers (some companies hold Friday happy hours as a stress reducer.) Socializing can be a motivator.

Celebrate your people
Everybody has a birthday. Everybody has a company anniversary. Every day people get married and engaged and have babies and graduate and achieve. Throw them a party, not because it’s a carrot, but because you care about them as human beings.

Be available, make eye contact, talk and listen
We’ve all known leaders who talk the great leader talk but don’t walk the walk. Make time to get to know your people. You want them to be comfortable talking to you and sharing their valuable insight on your business. They’re the people who know it best. Your availability is a motivator.

Get some games
Encourage play and competition. Yes, office ping-pong is a thing. And it’s not just in tech companies. Play—a game, a walk—is a great way to take a break from work. Get a TV, buy a Wii. Exercise is good for the brain and the body, and play creates endorphins and endorphins make us happy. A twenty minute play break can be motivating.

Motivating your employees can be fun. Look for ways to hack ordinary motivational tactics and see what works for your company. Who knows? You may wind up motivating yourself.

Margarita Hakobyan
CEO and founder of MoversCorp.com, an online marketplace of local moving companies and storage facilities. Business women, wife and mother of two with bachelor's degree from the University of Utah with a concentration in International Studies and a Masters Degree also from the University of Utah with a degree in International business.


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