Group of people sitting in circle having a discussion

The secrets to maintaining a highly engaged workforce

How to motivate your staff and keep an engaged workforce is one of the biggest questions plaguing employers today. After all, highly engaged employees are more likely to stay with a company and contribute to their growth and success.

But according to Aon Hewitt, who undertake annual research into global employee engagement levels, only 65% of employees were either ‘highly’ or ‘moderately’ engaged in 2018, and this level was an all-time high. That leaves 35% of an average workforce unengaged and companies with the challenge of reassessing and potentially introducing new ways of engaging their staff.

If this is you, read on to understand the why and how of motivating your staff and find out the secrets to maintaining a highly engaged workforce.

Motivation vs Engagement

If you want a highly engaged workforce and the benefits that come from this, then you need to consider what motivates your employees. But first, it’s important to differentiate motivation from engagement. While the two words are sometimes used interchangeably, they are actually quite different.

When talking about motivation, this is all about the reasons behind a behaviour; why an employee acts a certain way or does the things they do. While engagement is about your staff’s level of interest in their work and your business and attracting and keeping their attention.

Motivation and engagement go hand-in-hand, says expert in organisational behaviour and people engagement Chris Burton: "…the relationship between engagement and motivation is a two-way street; improve one and you also improve the other. So the key to understanding how to benefit from improved levels of engagement is firstly to understand what motivates us – why do we really do the things we do..? To understand what really motivates us we need to strip away all the factors which might merely influence us; in other words, we need to identify what lies at the very heart of our motivation to do something.”


Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Motivation can be described as being intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is about the feelings that someone might experience when doing a good job, such as enjoyment, satisfaction and pride. For some, these internal rewards are enough to motivate them to do well.

However, for others, extrinsic factors will be more of a motivational driver than feelings. Extrinsic factors are the external rewards – or punishments – that can drive someone’s actions, such as a monetary bonus or risk of losing their job. These can be positive or negative factors.

Everyone will be motivated by different intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Understanding what your employees are each motivated by is an important step in the process to engage your staff. There are simple online resources available to help you and your staff identify their motivational drivers.

Ian Hutchinson, employee engagement expert, CEO of Life By Design and author of People Glue, says: “Most employees know what they don’t want, fewer know what they really do want. If employees don’t know what truly motivates them, their leaders have virtually no chance of motivating them.”

The Benefits of Engaged Employees

80% of the companies on Aon Hewitt’s Best Employers list rate employee engagement and motivation among their top three HR priorities. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence then that these same companies experience sales growth at a rate of six-times greater than their counterparts.

Global analytics and advice firm Gallup found that, in addition to lower rates of staff turnover, an engaged workforce is 17% more productive, produces 21% more profit and has a customer satisfaction rating 10% higher than those with disengaged teams. These statistics prove that a highly engaged workforce results in a more profitable organisation. But how?

Kimberly Schaufenbuel, Program Director at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explored the effects of employee motivation on the brain and says: “Motivated employees improve an organization’s productivity and its competitive advantage. They are more highly engaged, can better handle the unease that comes with uncertainty, generally make for better problem solvers, and are more innovative, creative, and customer focused. Organizations with highly motivated workforces, in addition to being more profitable, report having higher levels of customer satisfaction and employee retention.”

How to Motivate Your Staff

Now that you know what motivation is all about, and why you should care if your staff are engaged, let’s explore how you can actually motivate and engage your employees.

Clarify Your Goals

Having clear goals, both at an organisational and an employee level is crucial when it comes to staff motivation. Understanding where the organisation is headed in terms of objectives, and how their own work can help to reach these goals, will motivate employees because they know what they are working towards.

Make the process of goal setting a collaboration and involve employees in setting goals for themselves, their department and the wider organisation. Engaging employees in the process will provide additional motivation to achieve the goals that they helped set.

According to Gallup: “All workers, regardless of age or stage in their career, want to know what's expected of them in the workplace. And the lack of clear expectations can cause anxiety and confusion in workers. But with clear expectations, employees thrive.”


Build a Collaborative Culture

A collaborative culture fuels engagement. Motivate your staff by providing opportunities to work with others on projects, where all members of the team are encouraged to contribute ideas, rely on each other’s expertise and work towards a common goal. The result will be highly engaged employees who feel valued and like their contribution matters.

One company that has been recognised for its collaborative culture is BPAY Group, which was named an Aon Hewitt Best Employer for 2018. Lucy Lithgow, General Manager – People and Culture at BPAY Group says: “We are proud to be an employer that puts collaboration at the heart of everything we do, to continue building a groundswell of engagement that breeds passion and energy. [Being named an Aon Hewitt Employer of Choice] is testament to our great company culture and how it contributes to organisational success.”


Empower Your Employees

Feeling valued is the most significant motivating factor for employees, with 97% of respondents in a Hays staff engagement survey indicating this was an ‘important’ or ‘very important’ engagement factor. Make your employees feel valued and empowered through practices such as giving them a voice and letting them be heard, ensuring they feel included in projects and the direction of the company, and providing clarity and autonomy in their roles.

John Banfield, CEO of BPAY Group says: “We have actively reinvigorated BPAY Group with our new more empowering values, behaviours and work practices. Those values are: Better Together (encouraging teamwork); Think Customer (placing the customer at the forefront); Minds Wide Open (asking questions and embracing change), and Always Step Forward (embracing curiosity and ambition to keep learning and improving). We create a level of innovation by empowering people to have some form of autonomy to create based on their own horsepower. It’s resulted in true buy-in and belief in our values creating a huge amount of momentum that we have built our culture around.”


Motivation is About More Than Money

It can be common to default to money – a pay rise or a bonus – when we think of motivating employees. But motivation is about more than money. In Hays’ survey of staff engagement factors, performance-based bonuses were the lowest ranking factor, by both employees and employers, proving that there are more effective ways to motivate staff.

Some areas to consider investing in, rather than directly giving your staff more money, are learning and development opportunities, the physical work environment, establishing progression pathways, a recognition system, and putting systems in place to support flexibility, autonomy and responsibility in their roles.

Marc Burrage, Managing Director of Hays Japan, says: “Of course there are still many people who consider pay to be the prime means of motivation, but if we’re completely honest with ourselves, pay can only motivate us so much. How motivated would you feel earning a six-figure salary working in a job where you are worked to the point of exhaustion every day in a dilapidated office, surrounded by people who resent you, reporting into a manager that doesn’t invest any time, effort or appreciation in you? Money is not the be all and end all.”


Recognition Before Reward

Now that we know the there is more to motivation than money, consider putting recognition before a reward. We often think of the outcome of doing something in terms of a reward. For example, if we do a great job, we might get a bonus or a promotion. But there is a lot to be said for simply recognising a job well done over providing a reward every time.

According to Hays, 95% of employees said that being recognised for doing a good job was important or very important to them, while only 78% said the same for being rewarded for their good work. This difference in employee drivers illustrates that simply recognising an employee for a great job is more effective in motivating staff. Simple yet effective ways of shining a light on your employee’s successes are an employee of the month program, a shout out at a team meeting, and simply telling them – in person and via email – that their efforts are appreciated.

Employee engagement expert Ian Hutchinson says: “Regarding employee engagement, yes we need to pay people more – pay them more attention! Relationships are the central nervous system of any organisation and appreciation is the simplest, easiest and most powerful motivational tool.”

Maintain the Motivation Momentum

Staff motivation isn’t a set-and-forget process. Once you know what your employees’ motivational drivers are and have collaborated to find solutions, set up regular check-ins to ensure that you and your staff are on the same page and they remain engaged.

Having a motivated and highly engaged workforce should be a priority. After all, your employees will drive the success of your business.