3 ideas to motivate your co-workers without giving them a raise

Author: Milena Pervanje
January 2018

The other day I was hiking in the mountains and observing families trying to motivate tired children to continue hiking to the top. One mum reminded her 5-year-old that he will soon be able to choose his favourite juice at the cabin on top. A grandmother and grandfather held their two granddaughters' hands and engaged them in stories and conversation. A young dad pushed his kid's competitive button: “Who will be first to the next turn? Let's go, you get a piece of chocolate for every turn we make!” Don't take this the wrong way, but it is very similar with co-workers.

The success of an organisation strongly depends on the leaders' skills to create a motivating working environment. It has been proven that, regardless of the size of the company, motivated employees work more and better while contemplating a job change less. When not properly motivated, the best employees will leave sooner or later and only the ones with nowhere else to go will remain. 

The higher the education of the employees, the more attention needs to be paid to motivating them.

A higher pay check can certainly be a great motivator but, as we know, money is not everything. So keep reading to find out how to motivate your co-workers without spending a dime. 

Just a bit of theory

As Abraham Maslow explained, a human being is motivated only by its biological need as long as it is hungry or cold. Then comes the need for safety followed by the needs for love, belonging, reputation and self-respect. Once all of these are met a human starts being motivated by the need for self-realisation. 

Now let's transfer this to a company. If an employee can't pay his monthly bills with his pay check, more money is the only way to motivate him. If he makes enough money but does not know how much longer this will last, a contract for permanent employment or a longer notice of employment termination will motivate him. If he feels secure in the company, good  internal relations and company climate become the source of motivation. And in such a stimulative environment he is bound to feel the need for self-realisation presented by a new project, a granted request for additional education or time off during which he can pursue his interests.  

But, as it turns out, its not that simple when it comes to employees. People are, after all, integral beings with varying needs which often overlap and change through time. 

That is why we should also mention Frederick Herzberg, an industrial psychologist, who defined two groups of employee satisfaction factors. The first group consists of motivators – responsibility, advancement and acknowledgement. The second group consists of hygiene factors, which include working environment, management, payment and company policies. Hygiene factors are subject to expectations of employees: when they are not fulfilled, employees are demotivated. But even when hygiene factors are fulfilled, the motivators have to be fulfilled as well in order to motivate an employee.  

Tired John and humble Mary 

John works in a very nice business building (=hygiene factor). At the same time he feels stuck and not growing as a person (=motivators). He will likely soon decide to look for a new job even if it costs him a great location, nice office furniture and a comfortable chair. 

His co-worker Mary sees things differently. She is not paid very well (=hygiene factor) but she is really pleased with internal relations and feels that her ideas and contributions to the company's business results are noticed and appreciated (=motivator). That is why, despite being underpaid, Mary is not thinking about leaving. 

Team leader's mission is to figure out what means the most to Mary and John at a certain time. Perhaps John could be motivated by being offered a chance of promotion after two years of working on a project and he will yield his momentary dissatisfaction to this personal goal. Mary's motivation can change just as easily. Perhaps she finds herself wanting to buy an apartment, which leads to dissatisfaction with her current job situation and she will, given the opportunity, accept a better paid position.   

These two fictional examples show the importance of communication between the team leader and the co-workers. If Mary's boss is aware that even a small payment increase will solve her financial problems, he boss can respond appropriately. It is possible, of course, that Mary's expectations are too high but in this case her notice, should it happen, will be expected and the company can prepare itself accordingly.    

How to strengthen the hygiene factors and motivators

3 no-cost solutions  

It is not necessary (nor efficient) to try and solve every drop in motivation with a pay raise or to threaten people in advance with financial consequences. Let me introduce you to three incredibly simple methods guaranteed to produce amazing results with your co-workers. 

1. Commend and thank 

A heartfelt commendation for a job well done costs absolutely nothing and works like a charm. There is a million small, hidden tasks we can commend just to show we have noticed the effort and that we appreciate it. We can commend bigger successes and sacrifices publicly with an honest thanks in front of all employees. 

Learn to find “bests” and “mosts” even in routine tasks.  There is something to commend about everyone at least every once in a while and if we keep commending them, we will soon find that there are more and more things to commend.  

Don't let a commendation or a thanks be an empty phrase. Show what you appreciate honestly even if it is a tiny detail.

And don't forget to be polite. “Please” and “Thank you” should be part of your everyday vocabulary as they show  respect for other people and improve communication. Phrases like “Bless you” or “Good morning” contribute significantly to the well-being of all employees.  

2. New challenges

It is not true that only young and ambitious people like challenges. Many more mature employees do well with a new challenge especially when we present them well. For some a challenge is a new position or a new project and for others an encouragement to go and find a solution to a problem they keep bringing up is a challenge enough.

Energetic Andy

Andy is a skilled sales manager in a smaller company. He concluded his internship a year ago and is bursting with energy. One can almost picture his drive and pride when his boss presents him with a new challenge: she invites Andy to an important meeting with a key buyer and lets Andy present a new product to him. 

3. Providing information

Being informed about strategic goals and to be able to identify with them is very important to people. Good communication between the management and the employees helps weather even the toughest storms for a company.  

The smaller the team, the easier it is for the team's leader to identify individuals' needs and motives.

That is why we should always talk to the employees. Communicate all changes, such as management or ownership changes, in a timely manner which prevents rumours and diminishes uncertainty. Encourage employees to speak openly as well. If a pregnant colleague tells us the happy news early it will be much easier to plan for her absence and to distribute her work load, making the whole process much less stressful for her, her closest colleagues and us. 

Bonus: 3 quick steps for highly motivated employees

New team leaders take this role on without anyone spending a lot of time teaching them how to motivate their team members. Many team leaders are not even aware that motivating people is one of their most important tasks.

Motivational management is a wide topic but here are three most important steps which will make you a successful leader of a motivated and an effective team:

1. step: help build your employees' confidence so they will be able to do their work well.  
2. step: through your approach, honesty and personal example maintain your employees' trust and keep showing them you are worthy of it. 
3. step: make sure your employees find satisfaction in what they do by sincerely commending them or, when needed, providing them with an argument-based constructive criticism.