C-Suite Challengers

It’s Your Responsibility to Motivate Employees — Here’s Where to Start

Johanna Buchweitz

Employees are responsible for doing their jobs. As a leader, you are responsible for motivating and engaging them. Here’s how you can fuel their passion and give them a sense of purpose.

When employees aren’t doing their job or carrying their weight, it’s a “them” problem. But when they lack motivation? It’s a “you” problem — and you can’t afford to ignore it.

According to McKinsey & Company, 70% of employees say their work defines their purpose. Great Place To Work research backs this up, revealing that lack of purpose is a main reason for employee turnover. If you don’t focus on employee engagement and motivation, then your team members won’t have passion for their jobs. You might end up losing talent when you need it most.

What is the role of leadership in employee motivation? You may think that employees are solely responsible for their own drive and enthusiasm. They’re not. Employees are hired to show up and do a job. So unless you learn how to motivate employees as a leader and help them understand their purpose, you may not get more than the bare minimum.

However, if you can successfully convey how much a worker matters, as well as why their work matters, you’ll see tremendous results. Take the urban legend about President John F. Kennedy. As the story goes, President Kennedy took an evening tour of a NASA facility and encountered a janitor. He asked why he was still at work, and the janitor replied, “Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.” That janitor knew he mattered. He had a purpose and was determined to do his absolute best.

How to Motivate and Engage Your Team Members

You may have been told that employees only care about money, but this isn’t true. A FlexJobs survey from 2021 reveals that only 50% of workers considering a career move are seeking more pay. More employees are looking for better work-life balances (56%), and nearly as many want more meaningful careers (49%).

In light of these numbers, you may want to revise how you communicate, lead, recognize, and appreciate your employees. You can start by applying these employee engagement and motivation strategies to your leadership toolkit:

  1. Provide employees with lots of genuine, positive feedback.
    We’ve all had that one boss earlier in our careers who we could never make happy. They might have criticized your work, waited for you to make mistakes, or micromanaged your workload. Good work was never good enough, which is why you couldn’t wait to escape.

    The goal? Now that you’ve ascended the ladder and assumed a leadership perch, work to become the opposite of this type of hypercritical boss. Let praise and recognition flow like water. Show regular appreciation for team members, and call out employees who overcome challenges — even if it was a minor obstacle. Don’t just save your praise for those who go above and beyond. Motivation is something you must foster every day.

  2. Tell employees how much of an impact they make.
    Employees with a sense of purpose will always go the extra mile. Look at Disney’s theme parks. Employees live out Disney’s mission to “entertain, inform, and inspire people around the globe.” They know that even the most minor role can significantly impact guests’ experiences, which is why Disney’s theme parks feel so magical. Everyone knows their purpose.

    The next time you task an employee with any deliverable — from writing a simple email to heading a massive project — explain why. Be clear about why that employee is best suited to complete the task. Discuss how its completion will further the purpose of the department and company. Don’t be surprised if you see a difference in attitude and results after having this conversation.

  3. Aim for clarity when it comes to expectations.
    Your employees aren’t mind readers. They need thorough, clear communication in order to meet your expectations. Otherwise, they may not know how to bring their best to the table.

    Additionally, be sure to give employees what they need to succeed. Do they require extra time? Technology? Training? Distribute resources ahead of time so employees aren’t struggling to complete tasks down the road. You can also ask team members about their preferred working styles to better align their habits with your expectations.

If your employees aren’t excited to show up for work, you need to do something about it. By following these tips, you’ll learn how to motivate employees as a leader. The sooner you start, the faster they grow. And that’s a win-win for everyone. Motivated employees will love their jobs, and you’ll have an excellent team ready to tackle anything that comes its way.

Written by Johanna Buchweitz.
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Johanna Buchweitz
Johanna Buchweitz is a highly respected business advisor, skilled investor, entrepreneur, host of the Limitless podcast, and founder of Frankly Co., an app and online community with custom-curated solutions for women entrepreneurs.

Johanna Buchweitz is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.