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It’s a common issue facing employers of all industries: “How do we motivate our staff?”

The reason it’s so common is because there is no clear answer or perfect solution to the puzzle that is, motivation. Its no secret that a motivated employee is an incredibly valuable asset to your organization. They are more productive, engaged and in tune with the culture of the organization. As you might imagine, employers are continuously looking for ways to motivate their employees in any way they can, however it’s a task that has many challenges.

As you look around your workplace, it’s clear that not everyone is the same. We all come from different backgrounds, locations, and in some workplaces, large generation gaps. As a result, motivating factors can be significantly different based off the individual. What motivates one individual may seem meaningless to another and so on.

To overcome the diversity, many employers turn to extrinsic motivators like money. However, over time science has shown that the results of these tactics are short lived and hold little value to the employee. In some cases can even produce a negative outcome by reducing one’s creativity and motivation to think outside the box. Author Daniel Pink, in his TED Talk “The Puzzle of Motivation,” discusses the downfall and flaws of incentive based programs that have plagued organizations for years. Pink is a strong advocate for intrinsic motivation in the workplace and claims that there is a significant mismatch “between what we know in science and what business does.”

The science of motivation has been almost solely based on carrot and stick type motivating factors throughout the 20th century. However, as we’ve moved into the 21st century, social scientist have shown time and time again, that this is not the best practice for motivating employees.

In fact, the well-known economist Dan Ariely, had MIT students work on tasks involving rudimentary cognitive skills, as many 21st century jobs require, and the results showed that the larger the reward, the poorer the performance.

There are many studies like this that go to show, money isn’t everything. However we are still faced with the question of “how to motivate employees?” To assist and even perhaps stir some creativity in your workplace, here are my top 5 ways to motivate employees in the workplace.

1. Praise often and sincerely

One of the easiest, yet least used motivational tools you can use is a simple praise and show of appreciation. Employees love to feel appreciated and praised for their work. It’s a sign of respect that can be extremely powerful when trying to build a positive culture in the workplace.

2. Surprise them with food

You can’t go wrong with food. Everyone loves food and for some reason, it always tastes better when it’s free. Try to make it a point to surprise your crew once a week with some kind of scrumptious treat. Whether it’s bagels from the bakery or a pizza from the pizzeria, your staff will appreciate the kind gesture. It’s a relatively inexpensive way of showing your appreciation for the hard work they do. The other benefit of a free food event is that it’s a stress free break from the norm, meaning when they go back to work, they reset themselves with a better focus for their day.

3. Encourage creativity

You should always be encouraging your staff to use their creative minds as much as possible and should never criticize a bad idea. Some of the best improvement strategies companies have had, started out as bad ideas, but because they were encouraged and used as a foundation, they blossomed into game changing improvements. You can run contests and reward those with the ideas that lead to improvement.

4. Be a leader not a boss 

Nobody wants to be told what to do or to be treated like a lesser individual. This is a major factor when trying to keep your employees motivated. Regardless of how well your employees are paid or how happy they appear to be with their job, if they do not feel like they are respected from leadership, they are less likely to put in 100% effort all the time. Be available to your employees, show empathy and listen when they talk. If employees feel like they can talk to their boss, they are more likely to give maximum effort and be more willing to sustain their effort.

5. Take a general interest in their lives

It’s amazing how much a simple question like “how was your weekend” can go. For some, you might be the only one who takes an interest in their lives. We all live interesting lives and it feels good to get to share it with someone, especially if it’s our boss. It’s important to be genuine though. No one likes to feel as though you’re just asking to ask. Get to know your staff. Know the names of their children, what they do outside of work and use that as conversation pieces. Your employees will be more motivated to work for someone that truly cares about them.

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