The ability to retain the best employees is an important part of a company's growth. When evaluating ways to increase retention, the effect of positive employee motivation is often overlooked. However, there are many benefits to having motivated employees: increased productivity, increased engagement and accountability, increased job satisfaction and decreased absenteeism. All of these benefits can lead directly to higher retention as well as increased productivity and morale. How can you increase employee motivation in your company? The answer can be found in understanding and identifying the primary motivators in your company.

Understanding Employee Motivators

Palmer Morrel-Samuels, Ph.D., led a study conducted by Workplace Research Foundation in cooperation with the University of Michigan that found that as employee motivation improved, the business' stock enjoyed higher subsequent returns the following year. While this study was based on corporations that were listed in the Wall Street Journal 1000, the findings are relevant in any industry and can apply to businesses of any size.

Depending on the nature and size of a company and its workforce, there can be a wide array of motivators. Six common motivators include:

  • Compensation
  • Flexibility
  • Time off
  • Benefits
  • Incentives
  • Bonuses

It is common practice to use compensation as the main employee motivator, but this may not be the most effective option. Morrel-Samuels commented that, "employee motivation cannot be purchased. It has to do with intellectual challenge, pride in developing a sense of mastery and the need to make a contribution to both your job and society." Money is an undeniable motivator, but there are several reasons why a business should be careful not to use this as the only motivator.

The first reason is that consistency is an important attribute for motivators and monetary motivators are dependent on the profitability of the business, which can vary from year to year. Staff still needs to be motivated when budgets are tight and bonuses and salary increases are not available. In fact, this is likely the time when the staff needs the most motivation. Secondly, when monetary motivators are small or nonexistent, employees may feel undervalued even though this was not the intent of the employer. Lastly, monetary motivators are usually only given once a year and it is important to motivate your staff year-round. These challenges can be minimized by understanding other ways to provide motivation.

Determining What Motivates Your Staff

After gaining a better understanding of employee motivators, the next step is to determine the staff's main motivators. One approach is to send an email to the staff explaining the company is interested in increasing employee motivation. Provide a brief description of the importance of employee motivation and include the six professional motivators noted above (and others, depending on your company and workforce) and ask each person to rank them. It may be helpful to mention that, while the company is planning to make an effort to increase employee motivation, this does not necessarily mean that you will able to meet every employee's main motivator all the time. Also, ranking their priorities will not exclude them from receiving others on the list (i.e., indicating flexibility and time off as a main motivator will not make them ineligible for a raise).

This list of priorities can give you valuable insight into how to get the best from your staff. Open the lines of communication by giving each staff member an opportunity to discuss their list. This discussion can be added to the next one-on-one meeting or review, and should be revisited at least annually. For new employees, this list should be included in the onboarding process.

Understanding motivators at the individual level is important, but depending on company size, it might not be possible to accommodate each employee's main motivator. Fortunately, the motivators can also be viewed from a high level. For example, if the majority of your company is motivated by flexibility, then you may want to think about a flextime schedule. If compensation and benefits motivate the majority, then incentives and bonuses are better options. However, it is important to remember that the main motivator should not be the only motivator. All six motivators are essential, but the most success can be found from focusing on the motivators that are most valued by the staff.

Discovering what motivates your staff is a way to take a right step toward enhancing your company's culture. Take the time to ask your staff what motivates them and give careful consideration to the feedback. This simple exercise could result in increased morale, productivity and employee retention.

Tags: Retention employee management Employee Engagement