How to motivate employees through stressful times

As Homebase’s VP of Sales and Service, perhaps one of the most important aspects of my day-to-day activities is maintaining a strategy on how to motivate employees in our stellar Customer Success team. Every day each employee dedicates themselves to providing the best experience possible to our valued customers—a fact I’m truly proud of. 

Aside from my Homebase experience, I spent 14 years in the automotive industry as a third generation member and General Manager of a family-owned and operated dealership. I led many sales teams through the ups and downs that come with the business.

It’s no secret that the world looks different than it did three months ago. Consequently, our employees are stressed, worn out both physically and emotionally, and concerned about the future. As your team begins to come back to work, you may find it challenging to increase morale and maintain that level of motivation you once had. 

Still, we’ve been through stressful times before, and we’ll go through stressful times again. That’s why it’s important to be able to meaningfully adapt your motivational tactics to get your team through these types of challenges. 

Here’s what I’ve learned through my experience, both in small business and in my current leadership role. Take these tips and apply them to your team as you see fit. You might find your employees will appreciate the understanding and will be motivated to get back to work

Listen, and listen well 

I think primarily what I’ve learned is that you have to listen to figure out how to motivate employees. Your team may be stressed as a collective whole, but they’re experiencing it in different ways. 

I’ve learned with my team that if you actively listen to each and every one of them, you start to learn more. You may be talking to an employee and think, “oh wait a minute, you’re concerned about something else, now I need to help you navigate through that,” whereas another employee doing the same job is worried about something completely different. 

Being an ally to your team when it comes to the concerns they have about the situation at hand is going to be one of the strongest factors of motivation.

Motivate employees by asking thoughtful questions 

I read something the other day that said, “ask questions to understand, not to reply.” If you ask questions only to get your own point across, it will quickly become very apparent to your employees that you don’t genuinely want to know their answers. And who wants to work hard for someone who doesn’t care? 

By adding thoughtful questions into your active listening strategy, and really taking in how your employees respond, you’ll gain valuable insights. Take those insights and use them to further equip yourself to be the ally they need right now. 

Ditch the blanket strategies

I think the concept of providing blanket motivation like we did in the old days doesn’t work anymore. I challenge myself daily to learn how to motivate employees by knowing each of them individually. Even if you’re a small restaurant with five employees, all five of those employees are going to be different.

From all my years of experience in leadership, it hasn’t always been that way. In the past, I’ve realized that not everybody is different. I used to have a rule: There are 10% of overachievers who don’t need motivation. There are 80% of people who just want to hit the expectation and they need all the motivation. 

And then there are the 10%  who are never going to hit anything no matter how hard you motivate them. That’s just who they are. They may be in the wrong role, or they may have the wrong personality type for the role, but something is holding them back. 

However, I actually disagree with that thought process now. I think it is so much more than 10-80-10. During a stressful experience, that 80%, your core group of your company, might need a little extra push to get through whatever unique challenge you’re facing. 

This is where you take your listening to the next level and apply what you learned to a different, customized motivational strategy tailored to each and every employee on a personal basis. 

Be honest 

I don’t think telling people during a stressful period of time that everything is going to be great is what they want to hear. And I don’t think they’ll appreciate your attempts to sugarcoat a situation. Remind your employees that no one knows what the future will hold, but you stand behind them. 

Let them know you value them as a team, as people, and you are ready to do the work. Finally, let them know you will make any necessary changes to make sure they’re happy, confident, and successful.

Create a culture that will motivate employees 

It’s through the challenges that you have the best opportunities to create and really solidify what your company culture is. Take some time and take precaution when thinking about this. Your reaction to problems is going to determine how your team shapes their opinion of you and your company. 

Your employees may not quit because they don’t agree with your values. However, if you care about shaping long-term, valuable employees, you need to use the stressful moments to solidify your culture.

Work to ensure you’ve created a culture that your employees will stand behind. You’ll gain their trust, loyalty, and respect. And I believe these three factors are a crucial part of the answer to how to motivate employees. 

Looking for a listicle version of this article? Check out our Top 10 Tips on How to Motivate Employees

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