Industry HR reps weigh in on employee motivation

What really motivates employees? Is it all about money? We asked several industry HR gurus and here’s what they had to say about keeping the team happy:

Denise Kelly, Director of Training and Employee Development, The Hite Company:

Some employees are motivated by money. Some are motivated by challenges. Others are motivated by a pat-on-the-back or time off. I think the challenge for a company and for management is to find the right button for each person and adjust the reward accordingly. If a company’s wage scale is on the upper end, the benefits are above average and working conditions are good, finding something to motivate the employees will be different for that company compared to a company that needs to improve on the basics. Keeping Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind, motivation is going to change based upon how the needs of the individual are met.

In recent discussions with our employees, we have realized that communication is important, and we have started to provide strategic updates on a regular basis through our company intranet to keep employees in the loop on important company-wide changes and initiatives. Communication and involvement appear to be important to many associates. When everyone knows the company’s strategic initiatives and where the company is going, they can all be a part of helping the company to get there. At the end of the day, if we have all played a part in helping the company achieve important company goals, we feel good about our contributions.

Sherri Sandvig, Vice President of Human Resources, Border States Electric:

Communication is very important to make sure our employees know what is going on in the company along with understanding the part they play in the overall strategies.  Several years ago I participated in some great training on Situational Leadership.  We are all different, so not one approach will work with every employee when it comes to motivation.  Get to know your employees and recognize what, as an individual, makes them go above and beyond each day. 

Jill Larkin, Director of Marketing & Employee Relations, Republic Electric Company:

Our experience suggests that employees are motivated differently depending upon their individual personalities. We have the following in place in hopes that one or two will reach each person:

  1. Monthly updates sent out from our Vice President providing information on the previous month’s performance.
  2. We have “reward” cards that any employee in the organization can give to any other employee in the organization to thank them for a job well done. These cards can be redeemed for prizes.
  3. We conduct regular “huddles” with the different divisions to make sure that everyone is communicating and “in the loop”.
  4. We have launched a wellness program where we will pay up to 100% of an employee’s gym membership based upon their usage.
  5. We are making a program called “Healthy Lifestyle” available to our employees for 50% of the retail cost ($500) and Republic will pay the other 50%. We did two pilot groups last year with six employees in each group and had really awesome results—I now have 12 people who have signed up for this program for 2012.
  6. We appoint employee “champions” whenever possible to help our staff feel empowered and part of what is going on. For example, we will be installing a new phone system soon, we will have “Champions” in each department who will serve at the go-to person for the new phone system.
  7. It may be a small thing, but we recognize all employee birthdays, work anniversaries and wedding anniversaries. Our employees really appreciate this and know that not all organizations do that.
  8. We have financial incentives built in for those employees whose jobs allow, such as counter staff, inside sales, outside sales.
  9. We try do to fun activities as often as possible, like cooking breakfast and/or lunch for the employees. We participate in community activities together like the Junior Achievement Bowl-A-Thon. Inserting a little fun when we can helps make people feel good.
  10. Ultimately what motivates our employees is the fact that they know the organization cares about them and that we are trying to provide them with the best possible work environment and opportunities that we can.

Michelle Akeman, Human Resources Manager, Frost:

I believe what motivates employees is the work environment they are in. If they enjoy their coworkers, the function they do and the environment they are in, they give more effort.

I did a small poll of my managers, and each noted that knowing your employees and what motivates them is the key. Recognition was No. 1—not just for the extra work, but for the ordinary day to day work. That can make an employee feel part of the whole—engaged and valued.

Be sure to check out our tED TV video for more insight into employee motivation.

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