March 16, 2010
Employee Motivation: 5 Key Steps to Improve Employee Attitude

There are 5 key steps you can take to motivate employees and improve employee attitude. The steps are derived from employee motivation techniques illustrated in a training presentation for supervisors from BLR. A portion of the PowerPoint® presentation is available to you as a free download: Motivating Employees—Tips and Tactics for Supervisors

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Motivating employees is the greatest challenge for management , according to some compelling research done by the Creative Group published in a recent management survey of marketing executives. The survey of 250 marketers showed that their biggest management challenges are:
  • Motivating employees (35% of respondents)
  • Finding qualified staff (28%)
  • Training and retraining staff (25%)
  • Resolving staff conflicts (7%)


Step 1—Identify What Motivates Employees

Ask your employees what motivates them. If you have trouble determining an employee's motivators, ask what would make him or her more excited about their job. If an employee seems hesitant or unsure, suggest several different motivators and get their reactions.

Most employees want:

  • Good supervision from a leader who can guide and direct their activity.
  • Clear goals and expectations that are mutually understood and agreed upon.
  • Accurate and timely feedback that fairly reflects their performance and helps them improve.
  • Interesting work, or at least the opportunity for interesting assignments from time to time.
  • Challenges that help them learn, grow, and test their talents and stretch their abilities.
  • Responsibility and the chance to take on important tasks and show what they can do.
  • Recognition for their efforts in the form of praise, rewards, and advancement.
  • Respect
  • Fair treatment

Motivated employees want:

  • Opportunities for growth
  • Control over their work
  • Participation in decisions
  • To be part of a team, and enjoy the camaraderie and sense of achievement that comes from being part of a successful team.

Step 2—Identify and Address Barriers to Employee Motivation

Negative Outlook

When you ask what motivates a worker, you make get some negative responses like:

“If you want to motivate me, give me a raise.”

“Don't ask my opinion if you don't want to hear it.”

“Promotion means more headaches. Who needs it?”

There are positive ways to counter these negative responses. For example:

  • If you want to motivate me, give me a raise. Employees often see money as the key to motivation, and sometimes it is. If you cannot grant a raise, you may want to ask the employee if anything else would inspire motivation. You may find that at times employees who want a raise can also be motivated by other means.
  • Don't ask my opinion if you don't want to hear it. Employees who make this or similar statements may be upset because their ideas were not adopted by the group or the organization. Talk with employees openly about their ideas and the ideas of others. Explain that while all the ideas were worthwhile, only some could be pursued at this time. Make sure employees understand that their participation is always valued and will be needed again.
  • Promotion means more headaches. Who needs it? Employees may be frustrated by not advancing or may be intimidated by the idea of advancement or promotion. Respond by talking to these employees about why advancement is important, to their careers and to the organization. Talk about the support that is provided for employees who are promoted, or want to be. Share with them some of the satisfactions or rewards that may make the headaches worth it and make sure they understand that you have confidence in them to make the best of any new roles.

Lack of Knowledge, and Fear

A combination of lack of knowledge and fear are big reasons why employees are not motivated or show poor attitude at work. For example, fear stifles motivation when a new worker refuses to ask questions lest he or she seem incapable of doing the job. Supervisors can remind new workers again and again that their questions are valued and important and encourage them to ask.

Step 3—Develop an Employee Motivation Program

An employee's performance, actions, or attitudes can damage both their careers and the organization. In such cases try first to come to an agreement about acceptable behaviors through informal discussions. If that doesn't work, meet with the employee and develop a formal employee motivation program. Get input from the employee. This is a chance to listen and find out about the employee's concerns.

A great motivation program should include the following elements:

  • Clearly explain what the employee needs to do to meet expectations, and how what the organization will do to provide support or assistance. Correction works best when it is perceived as a partnership.
  • Monitor the employee's progress with care and meet frequently with the employee to review the plan and the employee's conduct.
  • Provide encouragement, praise, and recognition as the employee's work improves. Make it clear that the employee's value in the workplace is increasing.
  • Some employees are motivated by discipline. They don't take their work seriously until they are threatened with some kind of sanction for unacceptable or inadequate performance. But discipline should be used only as a last resort for problem employees who fail to respond to other, positive forms of motivation.
  • Make it clear that resorting to discipline is not punishment by you or the organization but a consequence of the employee's own performance and behavior. Put the responsibility squarely on the employee, where it belongs.
  • Once you have warned an employee or applied necessary discipline, be sure to use other positive motivators as well to encourage improved performance. Discipline alone is rarely enough to turn a problem employee around.

Step 4—Add Motivation to Employee Training

Start off with a bang. Get trainees involved right away. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the session to grab their attention and create a little excitement. Encourage participation by having employees take center stage and describe something they already know about the topic, or give them the opportunity to ask a question about the topic they'd like answered during the training session

Keep their attention focused. You talking and trainees just listening is probably the least effective way to train. Experts tell us that in most cases hearing only accounts for 10 percent of learning, whereas more than 80 percent comes via the sense of sight. This means safety training activities should be heavily weighted in favor of hands-on practical experience, interactive discussion with the trainees doing most of the talking, question and answer, and activities that have a visual impact.

Make it real . Reality TV is really popular, so why not try some "reality" training? Have a speaker come in to give a short presentation about the topic. For example, you could have an employee who was injured on the job talk about his or her experience and what he or she learned from the accident as it relates to your topic.

Send them away all fired up. Although safety training sessions may seem like the end of a long road for you--a process of preparation, presentation, and evaluation--remember that for trainees, it's only the beginning. The rest happens on the job. If they don't apply what they learned in the session to their work, you've wasted a lot of time, effort, and money. So send them back to the job fired up about safety and eager to use what they've just learned. Have a good wrap-up session prepared for the end of training. Make sure trainees leave with a sense of accomplishment to reinforce that they've learned something really important. Also be sure they don't go away empty-handed. Give trainees a handout or booklet to serve as safety reminders and job aids. And be sure to tell them that your door's always open any time they have questions, problems, or suggestions related to the training session.

Give rewards as appropriate. Some can be earned and some by chance. An example of an earned reward would be giving each trainee a certificate of completion at the end of a session. A chance award could be placing a gift card under one chair and at some point in the session, ask people to check their chairs. Or you could give out small gifts, such as bite-sized candy bars or a company logo mug, to trainees who participate in the discussion.

See several tips to add motivation and inspiration to your training .

Step 5—Implement Procedures for Motivating an Aging Workforce

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), by 2010 middle-aged and older workers will outnumber younger ones. See several useful tips about training and motivating older workers .

Motivation is a complex subject. As you try out the techniques we've discussed, you'll find that your understanding of motivation and how to motivate people will gradually change and become more refined.

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