In these extraordinary economic times where it is literally survival of the fittest everyone is looking for effective ways to reduce costs and retain top talent.  While most of us are familiar with merit increases and bonuses as a way to motivate and retain employees, during times when those perks have been drastically reduced or even eliminated how do you continue to motivate and inspire your employees to do their best?

A recent study of employees across 350 organizations revealed that what employees want is (1) leaders they trust and who treat them fairly as individuals and (2) leaders who demonstrate genuine care and concern for their well being. (Time Keepers)

One key to motivating employees in times like these is for leadership to inspire confidence in the workforce that they are capable of safely navigating these uncertain waters.

Inspire Confidence

When you inspire confidence, you build trust within the team. Employees watch leaders and many times model the behavior they see. For example, if you project an image of chaos and angst it is likely your employees will also demonstrate those characteristics. On the other hand if you demonstrate calm and poise, your workforce will likely respond in a similar fashion.  

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

During turbulent times employees hunger for information and in the absence of good information they will make it up. With this in mind, it is critial to communicate early and often in an open, honest manner. Remember, employees can handle bad news as long as they believe it is being delivered in an honest, genuine manner. To be most effective, communication should be two-way, so allow employees the opporutnity to ask questions and provide input. This approach will not only allow you to provide information to your employees, it will also allow you to pick up on important cues to how your employees are feeling and what they are thinking.

Show Genuine Interest and Appreciation

If you haven’t done so already, get to know your employees – personally. What are their personality perferences, how do they view the world, what are their basic behavioral tendencies? Inventories such as Myers-Briggs can help people understand their similarities and differences and can assist teams in leveraging those traits to build trust. In addition, take time to get to know your employees on an individual basis. What are their interests and hobbies, are they married, engaged, dating, etc. What do they do when they are away from work? Genuine interest goes a long way when you’re trying to motivate employees.

Create a Sense of Autonomy

During times such as these where people literally feel that everything is out of control,  having the autonomy to influence the outcome of decisions can be powerful. Allow employees as much latitude as possible to decide how to do their jobs most effectively. Give them direct input into decision making and show genuine appreciation when they take risks.

Reward & Recognize

Set clear, meaningful short term and long term goals and objectives. Ensure milestones are established to provide a sense of accomplishment along the way and celebrate those successes. Nothing motivates employees like “winning” so even little milestone wins are important. Rewards and recognition that are provided in a timely manner with genuine appreciation can serve to further engage employees.

Reward and recognition need not be costly or extravagant. It can consist of a simple pat on the back or thank you during a team meeting. The point here is to let employees know their efforts are appreciated and they are making a positive difference to the success of the company’s goals and objectives.

Have Fun

Help employees find ways to have fun at work and where possible engage customers, internal and/or external, in the fun activities. The point here is to create memories, which create a sense of belonging. Examples include, a theme party on Friday afternoons, casual dress day once in a while, popcorn breaks, etc. In short, encourage employees to be as playful as your culture will allow.

Leverage the Uncertainty

Although none of us like difficult times, most employees enjoy the sense of pride and accomplishment they feel by perservering. As an organization, capitalize on the  tenacity and commitment of your employees and encourage and foster a sense of teamwork and satisfaction among the group.