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 to Your Employees

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 With Your Employees

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. 

Empower Employees Through Skill Development and Training

Investing in your employees’ professional development is essential for maintaining motivation. Providing training opportunities not only improves their skill set but also shows that you value their growth and future within the company. This approach fosters a sense of belonging and commitment, leading to increased job satisfaction and motivation. Employees who feel their professional growth is supported are more likely to be engaged and motivated.

Foster Open Communication and Transparency

Creating an environment of open communication and transparency is key to building trust with your employees. When team members feel they can openly discuss their ideas, concerns, and feedback, it cultivates a sense of ownership and involvement in the company’s direction. Transparency about company goals, challenges, and successes makes employees feel valued and integral to the team, boosting their motivation and commitment.

Recognize and Reward Achievements

Acknowledging and rewarding individual and team achievements is a powerful motivator. Recognition can be as simple as verbal praise, or as significant as bonuses or promotions. Celebrating successes, both big and small, boosts morale and encourages a culture of excellence and achievement. This recognition shows employees that their hard work is noticed and appreciated, leading to increased motivation and loyalty.

Promote Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for employee motivation and well-being. Encouraging flexible working hours, providing time off, and respecting personal time helps in reducing burnout and stress. When employees feel that their personal life is respected and valued by their employer, they are more likely to feel satisfied and motivated in their professional life. A balanced approach to work and life responsibilities leads to a more energized and dedicated workforce.

Enhance Team Collaboration and Cohesion

Strengthening team collaboration and cohesion can significantly enhance motivation among employees. Encouraging teamwork through regular meetings, collaborative projects, and team-building activities can foster a sense of community and shared purpose. When employees feel connected to their colleagues and understand how their work contributes to the team’s success, their engagement and motivation increase. A strong team dynamic often leads to improved performance and job satisfaction.

Provide Clear Goals and Expectations

Setting clear goals and expectations is vital for motivating employees. When team members understand what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the broader objectives of the company, they are more likely to be focused and driven. Regularly reviewing these goals and providing constructive feedback helps employees stay on track and recognize areas for improvement, further enhancing their motivation and performance.

Offer Opportunities for Career Advancement

Providing opportunities for career advancement within the company can be a powerful motivator. When employees see a clear path for progression and understand that their hard work and dedication can lead to career growth, they are more likely to be motivated and committed to their roles. Encouraging internal promotions and providing mentorship programs can help employees envision a long-term future with the company, increasing their motivation and loyalty.

Establish a Supportive Management Style

A supportive management style plays a vital role in employee motivation. Managers who are approachable, understanding, and willing to provide guidance and support create a positive work environment. When employees feel supported by their managers, they are more confident in their abilities and motivated to succeed. Managers who invest time in understanding their team members’ strengths, challenges, and aspirations can effectively motivate and guide them towards success.

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