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How to engage and motivate your team

How to engage and motivate your team

Why does employee engagement matter?

In the workplace, studies consistently show that motivated employees outperform their counterparts. If your employees aren’t passionate about their jobs, and keen to make a difference, it’s a serious issue. Productivity will go down, and customer service and staff retention will suffer. But how do you motivate your team?

Motivation is both extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation manifests as employees working hard to get rewarded for it, whereas intrinsic motivation manifests in the desire to work because the task they are doing is personally fulfilling. Both serve a unique purpose in the workplace, and complement each other.

Roffey Park Institute provides business education worldwide, and helps organisations, teams and individuals create a collaborative, resilient, high performing and inclusive culture. As well as delivering high impact learning in leadership, management, OD and HR, as part of its charitable purpose it conducts international research. More recently, in collaboration with Profile Asia and The Next Step, almost 2,500 respondents, working in organisations with employees in Asia Pacific ranging in size from under 200 to over 5,000 employees, were surveyed from October 2019 to January 2020 as part of the Working in Asia Pacific research study. This highlights key concerns across the region in terms of employee engagement and motivation, which are indicative of challenges all businesses face.

Six ways to engage and motivate your team

Here we look at how to motivate your team as a manager. Below you’ll find over 30 specific things to do to motivate your team. As you read through them, it’s worth considering not only whether you are ticking all the boxes when it comes to motivating your team as a leader, but also, whether you believe those above you are making you feel motivated, engaged and committed. In many organisations, you’ll find managers bestowing upon those below them what they receive from above. You may need to break that cycle by motivating your team in a different way to the way it’s happening to you.

1. Create a great place to work

  • Reward people and pay them for what they are worth

    Rewarding people for their work is one of the best motivators for your team. Don’t think, however, that this has to be monetary. Rewards can come in all shapes and forms, and often regular praise is a key factor in keeping your team engaged.

    A study found that twenty-six percent of engaged employees would leave their current job for just a five percent increase in pay. Don’t lose great people because you’re underpaying them. Offer pay that is slightly above average for your location and industry. If you don’t, you might find your employees think that you don’t value their contributions.
  • Make people feel appreciated

    Employees can feel unappreciated or suffer burnout if they are not recognised or rewarded for their good work and efforts. Keep in mind that rewards don’t have to be monetary. Extra days off, acknowledgement in company publications and the opportunity to broaden job responsibilities are just three examples of effective non-financial rewards.

    Appreciation and gratitude in the workplace are often underlooked but have the same benefits as in people’s personal lives. A simple thank you costs nothing but will result in more motivated and engaged employees.  A survey done by Glassdoor found that four out of five employees were motivated to work harder when their bosses appreciated their work, higher than the thirty-eight percent of employees who say they’re motivated to work harder when their boss is demanding, or the thirty-seven percent of employees who say they’re motivated to work harder because they fear losing their job.

    Rewarding your staff can be an opportunity to set your company apart from others. In the US, The North 6th Agency started a programme to let employees pick their own rewards. Because individuals are different, they choose the reward that motivates them the most. “We wanted to take the guesswork out of rewards programs,” said N6A CEO Matt Rizzetta. “If an employee deserves a reward, they should be able to choose whatever they want that motivates them. We solicited feedback on rewards and employees would say it would be really cool for an opportunity to travel the world,” Rizzetta said. “And from a recruiting standpoint, it’s been a home run,” he added.

    If you’re looking for great ways to say thank you to your employees, here is a list of forty ideas.
  • Praise often and celebrate each success

    Simple but genuine thanks and appreciation will make an employee feel like their work matters. One study of support staff said they value an in-person thank you even more than a promotion or paid time off as a reward for a job well done.

    No matter how big or small, celebrate each success. A graduate entry to the company may be finding their feet and shy around older and more experienced colleagues. Celebrate the first presentation they give, even if it is for a small project. By knowing your team and their strengths and weaknesses, you can recognise and celebrate when they have achieved a task outside of their comfort zone, even though it may be easy for others. Getting into a habit of celebrating the work of colleagues fosters collaboration and motivates your team to work harder.
  • Offer flexible working practices

    The Working in Asia Pacific research data identified a ‘lack of flexible work policies’ as the number five reason why employees were looking to leave their jobs. The ability to adapt working hours and locations around family and other obligations is critical to maintaining engagement and motivation in your workforce. Regarding working from home, between 2010 and 2015, Harvard Business Review surveyed more than twenty thousand workers around the world to find out what motivates people, including how much working from home factored into the equation. They found that working from home was less motivating, and when people had no choice in where they worked, total motivation dropped by a staggering seventeen points.

    During the global reaction to COVID-19, when millions of people were forced to work from home, this exacerbated issues. Not only did most people lack a quiet space to work, they also lacked the right equipment and furniture. Millions of full time workers were then also expected to homeschool their children on top of working commitments that often escalated due to the need to adapt rapidly to a completely new way of working.

    In the aftermath of COVID-19, it’s important to discuss with employees the best working practices for them. For some, they enjoyed the extra time at home and the lack of a stressful commute, however for many others, particularly the young and those living alone, commuting to an office environment is critical for their mental and physical health.
  • Help your team achieve a good work/life balance

    Boost engagement by providing on-site services, such as childcare, exercise facilities or catering, which helps employees be more efficient with their time and save money. If your company is smaller, then look to offer discounts to local businesses and other perks such as gym memberships. Offer flexible working hours and working from home options to help people juggle their work and home lives.
  • Give your team a break

    Sitting at a desk for hours at a time may appear to be productive, however without regular breaks and a change of scenery, productivity rapidly declines. Lead from the top by taking regular breaks to recharge and remind colleagues to do the same. If there is increased stress then organise a collective break where you can provide a catered lunch, and your entire team can have some downtime.

    Breakout rooms are popular with tech companies but are valuable areas for your team to take a quick break and focus on something fun, like table football. A refreshed and rested member of your team is far more valuable than one who never gets up from their desk.
  • Show you care

    Encourage happiness in your staff members. Get to know them on a personal level, and find out about their hobbies, interests and families. The better you know them, the more effectively you’ll be able to identify what motivates them:
  • Motivate your team by understanding what drives them

    Manage each person on your team individually. Find out what motivates them, what interests them and what their future goals are. You can then try and align their work with these goals. When you give your employees the opportunity to operate within the frame of their strengths, they will be more confident and motivated.

2. Lead from the top

The Working in Asia research data identified that respondents wanted strong leadership and vision from their line manager and management respectively. ‘Poor leadership from line manager’ was cited as the second most important reason why employees wanted to leave their jobs. This is crucial, especially in times of disruptions as strong leadership can help motivate and influence employees, thereby increasing employee engagement, morale and productivity.

  • Set a good example

    Leading from the top means that you should model the behaviours and standards to which you hold your team to. You should show punctuality, courtesy, and the willingness to be a team player. If you make a mistake then do not conceal it, as staff need to know it is a safe environment in which to make mistakes.
  • Don’t sugarcoat unpleasant projects

    Be honest and upfront with your employees, and demonstrate that you are willing to take on unpleasant or frustrating projects.
  • Don’t punish failure

    If an idea doesn’t proceed as expected, or throws up unexpected issues, don’t criticise or censure the person behind it. Treat it as a learning experience and encourage your teams to apply the lessons to other projects. The more you can encourage an environment where people can try new things, the more dynamic and adaptable the company will become and the more engaged and motivated the workforce will be.
  • Criticise constructively

    If a team member is performing below par, talk to them in private with care and tact. Criticism should be constructive and focus on the performance, not the person.
  • Be consistent

    You do need to treat each member of your team as an individual, but you also need to be consistent in your approach and do not appear to give one person preferential treatment over another.
  • Give as much support as you can

    Always let your employees know they should come to you the moment they feel their workload is becoming overwhelming. Regularly check in with them and offer a helping hand. If extra work cannot be shared between other colleagues, look at bringing in temporary staff to help ease the burden on existing employees.
  • Define your expectations

    Employees can’t get engaged and motivated if they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Each time you brief a member of your team, clearly define the work and the details, and explain how the project fits into the company’s larger goals. Verify your instructions and expectations by having the staff member relay them back to you, and encourage them to ask questions whenever they need additional information. Regularly check back in with each person so they are happy they are on track.
  • Set clear goals

    In one study, sixty-three percent of employees reported that they wasted time at work because they weren’t aware of what work was a priority and what wasn’t. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to work with your team to set clear goals, for individuals as well as the team as a whole, and that weekly, monthly and quarterly goals are also clear and defined.
  • Encourage independence

    In our research data, respondents stated they wanted autonomy and freedom in their work. Encouraging independence produces employees who are happier and more productive.
  • Don’t micromanage

    Thirty-eight percent of employees in one survey reported that they would rather take on unpleasant activities than sit next to a micromanaging boss. One of the best ways to motivate your team members is to allow them autonomy. Research has shown that employees who have autonomy are happier and more productive. In his TED talk, career analyst Dan Pink emphasized autonomy, mastery and purpose as the three things that motivate workers: “Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.’ When you give your teams freedom, you demonstrate that you trust them to do a good job and this, in turn, will increase their motivation to do their best.
  • Delegate responsibility

    Just because you are the leader, it doesn’t mean you have to shoulder all the responsibilities. Empower each individual to shoulder part of the burden and you will increase engagement as they feel more invested.
  • Avoid useless meetings

    ‘I survived a meeting that should have been an email’ is written across many mugs for sale online. They represent the frustration people feel at their time being taken away from tasks they deem more important. If team members are constantly in meetings they’re more likely to feel disconnected from their work because they don’t get enough uninterrupted time to concentrate on those tasks. Before you call a formal meeting, make sure it’s really needed. Will it engage and motivate your team or have the opposite effect? It’s also important to keep these gatherings brief and to the point.
  • Get rid of demotivating goals

    Demotivating goals are those a person doesn’t have complete control over. Having a goal to complete projects within a certain time frame is not as motivating as a goal to use new technologies in an upcoming project. Choose goals which are aligned to the autonomy of the team members.

3. Keep connected

  • Share the organisational vision

    The research data also identified a lack of vision from their organisational leadership as a key factor in respondents wanting to seek employment elsewhere. Your team needs strong leadership and vision, especially during times of disruption and uncertainty. Sharing the organisational vision helps motivate and engage employees, increasing morale, retention and productivity.
  • Keep your team connected to the company

    If you don’t share crucial company information, employees will draw their own conclusions. Keep your team in the loop, sharing, when feasible, the company’s financial performance, long- and short-term goals, and what this information means for them and their jobs. They will feel more engaged and connected to the company, and motivated to work hard knowing they are a fundamental part of the wider team.
  • Communicate With Your Staff

    ‘Unclear communication’ was cited by respondents in the Working in Asia Pacific research data as being one of the main reasons why collaborations fail. Make sure you keep clear lines of communication open, and that they work both ways.

4. Encourage creativity and collaboration

Now we’re getting to some of the more creative ways to motivate your team, and as such you may feel you’re out on a limb and potentially losing that top-down control. And that’s because you are. Nurturing creativity and leaving space for it at work is itself still quite a creative approach to take. But if the global pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that sometimes the uncertainty is absolute. At that point, you start from scratch, and everyone’s input is vital

  • Foster collaboration within the team

    In the Working in Asia Pacific survey, Roffey Park researchers identified ‘organisational politics’ as the fourth leading factor why employers were looking to leave their job. Across the Asia Pacific region, smaller organisations tend to yield more effective collaborations than larger ones. Although collaborations in larger organisations are taking place, respondents in the Industry and Commerce and Public sectors felt it was only average. Effective collaboration is vital for engaging and motivating your team, and helping bring about an egalitarian working environment.
  • Support new ideas

    Encourage and reward creativity in your team. Let them know it’s encouraged to think outside the box to come up with novel solutions to a problem. Show with action and implementation how you value their opinion. Your staff will be more engaged, motivated and invested if they’re working on a project they created or helped bring to the table.
  • Ask for input

    According to, thirty-nine percent of employees don’t feel that their input is appreciated. As a leader, maintain an open mind and an open door to create a culture where individuals feel able to approach you. Invite input and suggestions, and be aware of team members who may feel uncomfortable sharing their thoughts without gentle encouragement. Make sure you reach out to ensure all ideas are heard, be an active listener and, whenever possible, implement suggestions.

5. Give opportunities to grow

Roffey Park researchers identified the lack of career growth and development opportunities as the number one reason why employees want to leave their current job across all countries in the Asia Pacific region in 2019, and the number one reason in Singapore, China, and Hong Kong in 2020.

If you don’t offer your staff opportunities for self-development then you will foster a culture of dissatisfaction and lose valuable people. Most professionals thrive on continued professional development so they can be a more valued player and advance in their career. Support and encourage this by offering mentoring and training programmes.

  • Discuss career aspirations

    As well as setting objectives for your organisation, it’s important for your employees to have goals to work towards. Discuss their ambitions, and work with them on the best strategies for achieving their aspirations.
  • Promote from within

    If your team believes they’re unable to advance at work, they’ll quickly lose motivation. Internal promotion demonstrates the commitment of the organisation to helping employees climb the corporate ladder, and they’ll work harder to reach the next step, knowing it’s achievable. Recruiting from outside will still be an option, however regularly promoting your employees boosts morale.

6. Challenge your team

Motivating your team at work can reinvigorate things at a slightly more macro level. When the team has its own energy level, that can engage individuals you personally find difficult to connect with. Essentially, you’re handing responsibility to the team to bring everyone along for the ride. Here are four things to do to motivate your team:

  • Make your team’s work engaging

    A powerful way to increase engagement at work is to give your team the opportunity to solve problems that really matter. These will differ across organisations and departments, and may not be initially obvious. Challenge your team to identify the issues at stake, ask them what makes them valuable and interesting, then allow them to experiment with solutions.
  • Break out of comfort zones

    Repetitive tasks make employees disengage. Don’t let your team get bored. Encourage them to take on projects and responsibilities outside of their usual roles. Giving different and challenging tasks, which are still manageable for their ability and workload, helps your staff gain new skills and build experience. You’ll also demonstrate your faith in their abilities to perform outside the box and to a higher level. As a leader, let your team know you have an open door policy, and individuals can come to you for support. Breaking people out of their comfort zone builds confidence, and reveals new interests and skills both you and your staff may not have been aware of before.
  • Motivate your team by learning something new

    The fast track to a disengaged workforce is to send them on a course or training programme they have no interest in. You want your staff to feel passionate about their role, and want to use new learning to improve what they do and bring more value to the organisation. Discover what your staff care about, what skills they want to acquire, then help them find a programme that will motivate and inspire them.
  • Get out of the office

    Wherever possible, have activities such as team building, training, or celebrations off-site. A change of location helps provide a break from routine and helps people connect with new colleagues and reconnect with old ones. Building in social time into the agenda also helps enhance interpersonal relationships and create and maintain a team spirit.

Recognise the signs of low morale

Many companies only become aware of trouble with motivation and engagement when the problem reaches a tipping point. To prevent this, be alert to the early symptoms. These include a rise in absenteeism, complaints about customer service, poor performance from top employees or increased conflict between team members.

  • Learn from those on the way out

    Treat exit interviews as an opportunity to gain insight and clarity into how you could better engage, motivate and retain your team. The departing employee may not be entirely objective, however they are likely to be more open and honest with you than current staff. Allow these interviews to help learn, improve and grow the organisation and the management of your team.

Keeping your team motivated and engaged

Most people need to feel they are progressing in some way to maintain motivation. Always remember that engaging and motivating your team is an ongoing process. Once a team member is empowered and interested it’s the beginning – not the end – of the story. As soon as they have achieved their goal, seen a project through, or learnt a new skill, they will need to find new challenges to engage them. Getting their dream promotion may, for a few weeks, seem like the pinnacle of their career, however it will soon become the new normal, and motivation levels can drop.

There are many ways to motivate and engage your team and most of them are free. The key component is you. That might mean you need to break the cycle and not simply treat those below you as you are being treated yourself. You might find your own engagement improves when you begin to see the changes in behaviour through motivation for your team.

Your commitment to getting to know your team, communicating with them, empowering them, challenging them, rewarding them, and giving them opportunities to grow is what will keep your team engaged, motivated, happy and productive.

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