How To Boost Employee Motivation During Difficult Times

The way we experience our world is different. In 2019, people were looking to 2020 and beyond with hope. They were living in expectation that the previous year was closing and the new year would bring great things. Things like work promotions, new businesses started, new families, and vacations. Then the world suddenly stopped.

At the beginning of 2020, our generation faced a major pandemic. The coronavirus has completely turned our world upside down. The challenges that it brought have been many. People lost their lives. Businesses were closed. The general population was divided on the science behind how to move forward. We have faced countless roadblocks on the journey towards a new normal.

The level of struggle and challenge has killed employee motivation. The perspective has shifted. The world’s mentality went from a mindset that encouraged people to chase their dreams to one that tells the same people that they are lucky to be working at all.

The new perspective doesn’t raise employee motivation. Employees now have to learn how to operate long-held positions under new rules and regulations. If anything, employee motivation is in danger of falling. That is why leaders, managers, and business owners must begin to think about employee motivation and morale.

During times of challenge and uncertainty, the focus must shift to finding ways to motivate your employees and staff. The health of your organization depends on it. One thing I know, in the 20 years of leadership experience, is that when employee motivation is up the business thrives. There is a direct correlation between employee motivation and productivity. As you know, when a company is productive, it is efficient. When the business is efficient, it is growing and profitable. The best investment a leader can make is developing a way to motivate their employees as it determines the health and wellbeing of the whole company.

What is Employee Motivation?

This article will define employee motivation as the activities that energize employees to perform at their best.

The goal of every organization should be to motivate their employees to the point where they are the most productive and efficient. When your employee wins everyone wins.

The temptation is to focus on everything else over employee motivation. There will always be looming issues. Creating leads, follow-up, fulfillment, and many others are always in need of your attention. What if I told you that if you take care of those who take care of the systems, then your business will run at a higher performance level.

Instead of focusing 100 perfect of your time and effect perfection systems and procedures, spend time investing in employee motivation. When the person you hired is highly motivated, they are highly productive.

Always invest in the greatest asset of your company which is its people.

There are two terms used to describe the types of motivation. Those are intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.


Intrinsic motivation

is a term for self-motivation. It is the ability to motivate oneself based on an internal compass. This compass points towards a goal, by completion, will give the person a sense of accomplishment. The accomplishment is rewarding within itself. There is no need for any external reward. The intrinsically motivated person will build their motivation based on an internal reward system.

The ideal is that our employees are intrinsically motivated. When you have an employee motivated by self-fulfillment and self-satisfaction, little to no extra pushing or inspiration will be required. Having an intrinsically motivated employee is incredibly valuable. All the motivation they will ever need will not come from you but from within themselves.


Extrinsic motivation

is the other term used for employee motivation. Where intrinsic motivation is internal, extrinsic motivation is external. Extrinsic motivation is where the employee is motivated by an external reward. Also, it is essential to note that extrinsically motivated employees are not only motivated by the promise of reward; they are also motivated by the threat of punishment.

Employees who are extrinsically motivated are best motivated when they know a reward is waiting upon completing the task. The reward could be a pay raise or something as simple as a cup of coffee from their favorite cafe.

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Think about a child who is of school age. Typically, the student will go to school and work hard to attain good grades. The intrinsically motivated student will be happy knowing that they achieved the desired grade. The extrinsically motivated student is different. They are not satisfied with getting a good grade. They are motivated by what they receive for getting good grades.

The same dynamics can be applied when thinking about employee motivation. The intrinsically motivated employee will be happy the task was complete. If the task met their standards, knowing they did a job well done will be enough. However, knowing it was a job well done may not be enough for the extrinsically motivated employee. The extrinsically motivated person will be more interested in what they get or avoid by finishing the job. If they avoid punishment, reprimands, or coaching sessions, then the extrinsically motivated person is happier. If the extrinsically motivated person gains a tangible outcome, then they will be ecstatic. The extrinsically motivated individual lives for two things. To gain pleasure (rewards) and avoid pain.

Many more employees are extrinsically motivated than there are intrinsically motivated ones.

What Kills Motivation?

Before we jump into discussing ways of motivating your employees, let’s take a moment and discuss what kills motivation. I find that understanding the roadblocks helps us become aware of them so that we might remove them.

1. Micromanaging


is a form of mistrust. For the micromanager, the process of micromanaging others is all about control. The more you control, the safer you feel. However, the greater control you exert the more your employees feels mistrusted, mistreated, and undervalued. When your employees feel like this, their motivation drops and the business suffers.

How would you feel if someone was watching your every move? What would you think if the leader didn’t delegate work, became overly involved with your work, and discouraged you from making decisions? Would you feel motivated if the leader decided to look at every detail, demanded regular updates, and wanted to be cc’d on every email? If that doesn’t motivate you, then realize it will kill all employee motivation within your organization.

2. Lack of Systems and Structure

Lamar University defines structure as:

“the formal system of task and reporting relationships that controls, coordinates, and motivates employees so that they cooperate to achieve an organization’s goals.”

Structure and systems tells employees who does what, who answers to who, and how things are meant to be accomplished. These are super important to building motivation.

Effective, efficient, and motivated employees are birthed from solid structures and systems. The purpose of such systems is to create a work environment that builds motivation and promotes productivity. The lack of systems and structure is one of the fastest ways to demotivate employees. When the employee lives in multiple levels of complexity because there isn’t a straightforward system, it will increase the stress level. As the stress level rises, the employee’s motivation falls.

3. Unclear Expectations

It is important to note that we all carry expectations on how things should work. Where we struggle is in how effectively we communicate those expectations to those we interact with. In truth, there is a high percentage of leaders who call people to a high level of expectation without ever sharing what that level is.

Millions of employees have to live to a standard that they are unclear how to achieve. You cannot achieve what you do not know. If the expectations are not clearly defined and communicated, the employee will never meet those expectations.

The most motivated employees are those who know where the target is. When an organization carries high expectations that are never communicated, the employee is positioned for failure. If I were an employee who knew that there was no way to win, I would be demotivated entirely and ultimately look for a new position elsewhere.

10 Motivating Factors for Employees

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but I wanted to highlight some of the top factors that increase employee motivation.

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1. Job Security

In the current cultural climate, job security ranks high. In 2020, a high percentage of businesses shut their doors, laid-off employees, and downsized general operations. The few employees who were able to go virtual were blessed. However, a large number of people moved from a job they loved to being gainfully unemployed. With that in mind, when an employee finds an excellent place to work that promotes job security, they are motivated to do what they can to keep their job.

2. Being Recognized for Their Work

Being recognized at work is a critical factor that will increase employee motivation. Deep inside every employee is the desire to be seen as someone who does an excellent job. When they are privately and publicly recognized for their work, it keeps them showing and motivates them to go to the next level.

3. A Healthy Work Environment

Toxic work environments demotivate employees. On the flip side, a healthy environment boosts morale and keeps people showing up. Take a look at google. They have an environment that promotes enthusiasm, community, and fun. Google’s environments promote high performance by focusing on removing stress. In return, the employee shows up refreshed, highly motivated, and ready to work. There is a lot of power in an environment that promotes health.

4. Career Advancement

Employees want to know that there are options for them to advance. Working a “dead-end” job demotivates employees because it tells them that there is no chance for them to be more than they are at that moment. Want to motivate people? Invite them to express their purpose, give them a clear path of growth, and you will have one highly motivated employee.

5 . Good Wages

Employees want to take care of their self-interests. Whether they are single or support a family, the employee will be highly motivated when they know that they are earning enough to live a comfortable life. The greater the pay level they can achieve, the more they will be motivated, and the harder they will work.

6. Set Smaller Goals

Your organization should have a 5 or 10-year business plan that depicts trends, goals, and markers for success. The most outstanding leaders can take long-range goals and break them up into small achievable milestones. Each milestone is a stepping stone towards the bigger goal, but instead of pushing to the long term, we focus on the short term.

Quick wins are potent reminders of the quality of work that is accomplished. What people need to get and stay motivated is a series of quick wins. Not only does it motivate your employees, but it builds their confidence.

Now, more than ever, we must focus on short term stability instead of long term growth. It is in the short term where the organization is established. You will need quick wins that create highly motivated employees that will push the vision further along.

7. Be Transparent


produces trust. The more an employee can trust you, the greater motivation it will build. The openness at which you are sharing information is crucial for creating clarity, certainty, and trust. When employees feel out of the loop, they become uncertain. The more uncertain an employee is, the less motivated they are. It is important to note that when you lack transparency, you will loose employee motivation and trust. Ultimately, when an organization loses faith, it isn’t long before they close its doors.

The best way to be transparent is through regular communication. I do not believe that most organizations communicate well enough. If you cannot communicate well enough, you will have a platform to be transparent. Learn the science and art of communication. Invest in learning how to talk with people and not at people. Then take that knowledge and build relationships where you have the right to speak into their lives while being transparent in front of them.

8. Motivate Individuals Rather Than the Team

It is common to focus on “team” building and motivation. This focus can be the product of a leadership culture that focuses on “we” instead of “me.” It can also be a product of a time-sensitive leader who uses team motivation to get the job done, motivate his staff, and save time in the process. Interestingly, people love being part of a team, but they also love when they get personalized attention. There is something special when your leader takes time to build you up personally instead of a group activity.

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Lean into a time where you can spend one-to-one coaching with your employee. Encourage the employee, give them pointers about growth, and acknowledge their contribution. Help them see the value they bring. When you do this, you will find that your employee will become highly motivated. A highly motivated employee will begin to inspire and motivate all the other employees within their circle.

9. Learn What Makes Each Employee Operate

To be known is a deep desire of humanity. Inside each of us that secretly wishes someone could see us for who we are and not just what we bring to the talent table. One of the best ways to dramatically increase employee motivation is through learning their personality types.

DISC, MBTI, and Enneagram all offer valuable insights that can be leveraged for growth, motivation, and alignment. Having your employee walk through an indicator then taking time to get to know the person behind the personality will instantly increase motivation.

Each personality has something they long for and specific ways they connect. Taking the time to learn and unpack each personality type is a gateway into a bond of loyalty that will drive motivation for years to come.

10. Be Inclusive

If 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything, it is that people desire to be included. Each movement was an outcry saying, “we have been forgotten.” If people are starting these movements nationally, you can bet that they are happening within your company’s ecosystem. Instead of fearing the conversation, learn to engage in it. I do not believe that people need you to agree with them. I think that people want to feel as if they have been listened to and heard.

Being included is directly linked to employee motivation. If a person does not feel heard or included, this lack of connection has serious ramifications. Not being included can lead to loneliness, depression, anger, and detachment. You and I both know that if an individual is going through the gambit of these emotions, they will lack the motivation to do their tasks and build the organization with you.

A fundamental human right and dignity is to be included. We must ensure that we include our fellow employees regardless of religion, political belief, or lifestyle choice. When we learn how to include others and help them feel like they have been heard, we will instantly have a loyal follower motivated to help us build the organization.

A connected person is a healthy person, and a healthy person is a motivated person.

Bottom Line

There is no secret to motivating others. The truth about motivating employees is found in the simplistic idea that if we help them achieve their goals, they will be inspired to help us reach ours.

It all starts with you. How you show up for your people and leadership will determine the trajectory of your business. If you show you care, give your employees your time, and invest in them, they will find the motivation to keep moving your goals along towards completion.

Learning how to motivate your employees properly is by recognizing them as people who care about life, have goals and dreams, and are working for you as a means to achieve their heart’s desire. Facilitate that. Help them win. Do what we talked about in this article, and you will quickly start seeing a turnaround in your organization. You will see your employees move from just being there to being highly present and motivated employees ready to conquer the tasks at hand.

Remember, everything begins and ends with people.

If you desire to lead well, motivate your employees, and build your dream, you must start and end with a heart and focus that invests in people.

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