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Psychological research suggests that there are ways businesses can support their employees moving forward even as the pandemic slips into a new phase of uncertainty…

Stress however is a big problem in many workplaces. Decades were filled with research on the impacts of stress in the workplace and how job pressures influence motivation. And it is amplified in the context of working under the various additional stressors and demands that the pandemic has introduced.

Workplace stress is a common problem for many people. It can be caused by a number of factors, including job insecurity, work overload, lack of control over one’s work, and a lack of social support. Some stressors are hindrances, which are things outside of an employee’s control that feel like barriers to performance: red tape, lack of resources, and conflicting goals. 

Although stressors can be challenging to manage, they can also be opportunities for personal growth. A meta-analysis led by Jeffery LePine, PhD, a researcher in organizational behaviour at Arizona State University, found that while hindrance stressors crush motivation, challenge stressors actually boost it. To recap:

  1. Challenge stressors are more motivating because they give people hope that if they put the work in, they can achieve an outcome they value.
  2. Hindrance stressors, on the other hand, feel insurmountable, no matter how hard you work, a satisfactory result is out of reach.

Many of the stressors introduced by COVID-19 were hindrance stressors, which are things that people feel are blocking them from achieving their goals. Employees were being asked to do things that made them feel bumbling and helpless, such as interacting solely via Zoom.

Teresa Amabile, PhD, a social and organizational psychologist at Harvard Business School, said one of the most motivating experiences employees can have is making progress on a meaningful task.

Surprisingly, anecdotal reports during the pandemic suggest that the winnowing effect of work-from-home policies actually boosted feelings of progress for many employees – but how long does this last?

Motivation is the key to success in life. Motivation researchers are active in workplaces, classrooms, sports and pretty much anywhere people would be engaged. But it’s not always easy to motivate employees. It is, in theory.

Motivating employees through smart working is a challenge

We’re asked to understand what motivates each individual on our team and manage them accordingly. Leaders who are overwhelmed by their own workloads are often the ones who make the most important contributions to the success of their teams.

Leaders are encouraged to use the carrot versus stick approach for motivation, where the carrot is a reward for compliance and the stick is a consequence for noncompliance. We can’t expect others to be motivated to do what we want them to do when we aren’t motivated ourselves. Why not consider a different way to motivate employees?

A couple of days ago, Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, announced on Twitter that Airbnb’s employees can live and work anywhere.

But he didn’t just make the announcement – he also laid out the 5 key features of how the plan will actually work, along with their beliefs as a company. Hopp Team especially appreciated their prioritizing of:

Intentional, recurring team gatherings for cohesion & collaboration

The best work is done when we work in the same room

The new dialogue embraces the key concept that motivation is less about employees doing great work and more about employees feeling great about their work. The more satisfied employees feel about their work, the more motivated they remain over time. We can motivate employees by engaging in a new and meaningful dialogue about the work instead. Here’s how:

🟠 Add purpose. An understanding that their work matters and is relevant to someone or something other than a financial statement is a strong motivation for employees. Start by sharing context about the work you’re asking them to do. We are as a team and we are as an organization. Why are we doing it? Our work is beneficial to our clients and their businesses. What are the objectives for our team and each employee? What role does each employee play in delivering on that promise? Employees are motivated when they have a sense of purpose in their work.

🟠 Enable progress. When you ask any team members for help, they will undoubtedly encounter roadblocks and challenges along the path to success. It’s important to recognize that challenges can materially impact motivation. They will help identify and address the problems that they have identified. The trouble with memory or an inability to concentrate can make a worker’s job difficult or cumbersome. What can you do to help relieve the burden? What roadblocks might surface? How can you knock them down? How can you be alert enough to notice trouble coming, and plunge into action to get ahead? Employees are motivated when they can make progress without unnecessary interruption and undue burdens.

🟠 Show recognition. Employees will work harder if they feel appreciated. Leaders consistently underestimate the power of acknowledgement to bring forth employees’ best efforts. What have been the key achievements in this area? What unexpected or exceptional results have been realized? Who has gone beyond the call of duty to help a colleague or meet a deadline? A customer service representative has provided great service or support to a customer in crisis. Who “walked the talk” on your values in a way that sets an example for others and warrants recognition? Recognition and appreciation motivates employees to work harder.

🟠 Check in with yourself. What if you’ve done all of the above but are still struggling to motivate others? You may need to assess your own motivation. A leader who cares about the work will have an immediate impact on employees. If you’re not engaged and enthusiastic about your company, your team, or the work you do, it’s unlikely that you’ll be a great motivator of others. What aspects of your role do you find enjoyable? Why are you proud to lead your team? What impact can you and your team have on others both inside and outside the organization? What can you do to increase your energy and enthusiasm? Motivated employees are motivated by their leaders. 

It’s not time to throw out the old motivators and try something new. Discuss how the work your team does affects your customers every day. Give your employees the tools they need to solve problems. Thank your employees for their efforts on a regular basis. Connect with your own motivation and share it freely with your team. Have meaningful conversations instead and work together on work-life balance. You’ll be well on your way to leading a highly motivated team.

Oh, and here is a  little hint: With you don’t need to be Airbnb to deploy a hybrid work policy in your company. Actually, you can motivate your people in minutes. Just click here.

Carlo Ciliberto

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