Why motivated workers work

The traditional workplace model is changing. With the economy shifting from established corporations to a culture of start-ups and leaner companies, it’s important to recognise the ways in which we work differently in these newer, more experimental spaces.

Employee relations, peer rapport, and good communication across the hierarchy: skills essential for the success of a young company in a competitive space. It’s easy to forget these softer skills in the face of the many difficulties involved in running a start-up, from gaining interest at the investor level to product development and promotion.

But the importance of work motivation, a crucial aspect of a strong office rapport, should not be underestimated.

Motivation is now at the forefront of discussions around productivity, maintaining a competitive edge, and there is even discussion of happy workers having an impact at the financial level. In short: motivated workers work harder for longer, and a happy workforce is one which will lead a start-up to a profitable future.

Where do you start?

The task of motivating employees can feel daunting no matter the size of the business. Start with simple solutions to immediate motivational problems – office space, lingering disputes, easy fixes to daily issues, like space in the fridge – and then build out into more complex, long-term motivation strategies like the following:

Educating your staff: a motivated workforce is a workforce that is continually learning and adapting. Studies show that younger workers are desperate for development, and offering staff the opportunity to gain new skills gives them a sense of progression that a stagnant, unmotivated office lacks. Think outside the box on this one, too; training should not solely be focused on skills that are directly related to the tasks they perform in their daily responsibilities, as other skills like learning languages and furthering their original study subjects can also foster positive energy.

Encouraging discourse: employees know what they need best, and as a smaller outfit a start-up should look to promote discussion at, and between, all levels. The best motivational strategies are those that are created in tandem with an employee’s thoughts about what will improve their work situation, with the employer working to provide that within their scope and budget.

Appreciation is key: workers look for instant feedback and it helps them to feel motivated and appreciated in the workforce. Offering your staff praise after completing a difficult project, or showing consideration for their efforts in a meaningful and quantifiable way is an important motivational metric, especially for a start-up’s first year of operation. Bear in mind that appreciation does not necessarily equal compensation: when many workers feel unrecognised by their employers, a simple, honest congratulatory message can make all the difference.

Ditching the blame culture: though it can be frustrating to experience errors or deficiencies in the workplace, a strongly motivated workforce benefits from the lack of a blame culture around making mistakes. When a start-up treats an error as a system factor to work through as a unit – rather than a personal fault – it allows for team bonding, greater growth in problem solving and perhaps most importantly, an environment where staff feel able to report upon and then get help in fixing mistakes.

Being clear about goals: for a start-up, the mission has to be clear from the hiring process. What are the long-term aims for the product or service being created? What will a role look like in the business in five or ten years? How will an employee’s position in the company be measured? Motivated workers are people who come into a position with a clear understanding of what the company is trying to achieve, and since a start-up is uniquely focused on achieving those initial aims, it stands to reason that staff should be familiar with them.

Transparency across workplace matters: in the evolving economy the matter of workplace transparency is becoming increasingly important. Today’s staff will not hesitate to move to a position with better remuneration or perceived greater benefits. Telling the truth will, as a start-up, give you leverage to increase employee retention and provide a position that might not be able to pay as well, but provides an overall better quality of workplace life.

Motivation is a founder’s responsibility

Start-ups are in an interesting position when it comes to the above key motivational factors. As a young enterprise that is flexible by its very nature, these strategies are both easier to implement and harder to maintain as your company grows.

One of the crucial parts of a founder’s responsibility is to manage this business growth alongside keeping your workplace happy. The difficulty of maintaining your company culture during growth lies in making sure new employees are aligned with the goals and workplace aims you have set out in the past, as well as ensuring that the motivational strategy scales up with the size of the business. After all, as we wrote about previously, a start-up cannot afford to tolerate brilliant jerks.

There are many stories of people working with a small start-up only to leave when the company grows to a certain size and factors like profitability, productivity and output become daily sticking points. It is the responsibility of the people in charge to make sure that increased financial responsibility does not come at the cost of a happy workforce. Because in the long run, that leads to your best staff leaving and your unmotivated workers performing poorer.

Getting motivated to motivate

Even the best intentions will go to waste if an unmotivated boss tries to engage with their staff. While it can be difficult at the top, especially in a start-up where the founder is responsible for both the success and the solvency of the business, it is crucial that you stay motivated when you’re the boss.

Many of the strategies that motivate staff will also motivate yourself as the boss: learning new skills, engaging in discourse and working to refine and believe in the start-up’s goals, but there are a few other elements that can be helpful when looking at motivation from a leadership perspective:

  • Look into mentoring, especially if the start-up works heavily with younger members of the workforce. Or if you feel you would benefit there are always things to learn from being mentored by someone with more experience at the top than yourself.
  • Choose to work flexibly, whether with time or location, in order to maintain a motivated mindset. Often the boss of a start-up or young business takes their work home with them; taking agency over the time and place of working hours can help you both feel better and work smarter.
  • Include yourself in team building activities, motivational get-togethers, and events where your employees have fun: if you have succeeded in creating a good company culture not only will you be welcomed, you will gain valuable insight into what your employees enjoy.

By implementing these steps both for the founders and the employees, your start-up will avoid the trap of underestimating the importance of a happy workforce: allowing for greater growth, better retention and the ability to work smarter for longer.  


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