The Dos and Don'ts of Staff Motivation

When it comes to motivating and encouraging your employees to perform at their best, the line between success and failure can be fiendishly thin.

We’ve all had those weeks where nothing has seemed to go right; be it that big sales pitch that didn’t work out, to a client unhappy with the service they’ve received. Despite you and your team’s best efforts, sometimes it feels like the whole world is out to get you.

It’s when things are at their lowest where keeping calm, focused and motivated can make all the difference.

Approaching problems with a positive attitude and a willingness to go that extra mile – be it staying an hour or two later than usual to get a presentation finished or taking on extra tasks to relieve a colleague’s heavy workload – can help make difficult times that little bit more bearable.

But of course, this is all easier said than done sometimes…


Regardless of how good your product is, or how well-respected you are in your industry, the one asset you have that sets you apart from the competition is your workforce.

If managed effectively, they’ll outlast the tough times and will also make the magic happen. However, the flipside to this is that they’re the ones who need the most attention and under times of pressure, this can often be forgotten.

"Do you simply throw money at them in the form of cash incentives and bonuses, make promises about their roles in the business or simply emphasise the worst-case scenarios if things don’t pick up?"

If a business is facing difficulties, those difficulties can quickly become the dominating feature of the workplace. Working hours can become longer, workloads increase and little things that make the working environment an enjoyable place to be can quickly disappear.

Lively and positive conversations are replaced by silence or whispers of uncertainty. Emails from colleagues or managers become heralds of bad news and worry. Regular team meetings become arenas for conflict.

Any of this sound familiar? Regardless of the industry you work in, we’ve all been there to some degree…

It’s times like these where having a motivated and engaged workforce can make the difference to a company’s fortunes; engagement and positivity breeds success, but what are the rules for motivating a workforce in times of difficulty?

Do you simply throw money at them in the form of cash incentives and bonuses, make promises about their roles in the business or simply emphasise the worst-case scenarios if things don’t pick up?

If you considered any of those options, you thought wrong! But don’t worry; we’ve got the dos and don’ts of effectively motivating your workforce right here…


Silence may be golden, but when businesses are struggling, it can be engagement kryptonite.

Keeping communications with your workforce open and transparent is one way you can improve the motivation and wellbeing of your staff in order to navigate difficult periods. Your workforce will be just as keen as you to see their business flourish; so, if times are hard, they may have their own ideas and suggestions as to what can be done differently to improve things and achieve shared goals.

Communication is a two-way street that helps drive collaboration, innovation and personal development – all key factors in driving success.

Whilst you may not be in the position to share more confidential areas of a business, open and regular communications with your workforce can offer the opportunity to fully engage with your most valuable and creative resource. 


Getting angry is a natural emotion that everyone experiences, but giving the old Sir Alex Ferguson ‘hairdryer’ treatment to members of staff when things go wrong or flying into rage when something doesn’t go your way can be hugely damaging to morale and wellbeing – especially in the workplace.

Learning how to manage anger effectively can make stressful situations in the workplace a lot easier to overcome, plus help with your general wellbeing, too.

Whilst anger is a difficult emotion to deal with, there are a number of ways you can manage it to reduce the chances of causing lasting damage:

  1. Breathe deeply and count to 10 – Just stopping for a moment and taking a few deep breaths can help relieve tension and bring calm to difficult situations. It can also allow you to focus on your thoughts and compose yourself.

  2. Take a moment away from workplace – Sometimes just getting away from a difficult situation can allow you to focus your thoughts and allow you to calm down. If you’re becoming angry in the workplace, take a time out from the situation. Go for a walk or maybe find somewhere quiet to gain some mental clarity to return refreshed and composed.

  3. Talk to someone you trust – Don’t sit at your desk stewing over a situation. Talk to a close friend or colleague about what’s making you angry. They may be able to offer an alternative view or much-needed support.

  4. Write down your thoughts, but don’t share – Writing how you’re feeling is a great way to focus the mind and give some clarity to how you feel. You may want to unleash your displeasure over an email, but simply getting out your system and deleting or destroying what you’ve written can release tension and be quite cathartic, too.


Not everything you and your team does will be successful – but that’s life! However, supporting your team publicly shows that you care for their wellbeing and want to see them succeed just like you do!

Having someone’s failings brought up in public can destroy their confidence and can also be viewed as simply shifting blame. Any disagreements and disappointments you may feel for your employees or their work should be communicated in private and constructively.

Take any failings that have occurred at work as an opportunity for improvement and something to be learnt from for next time. This will give your employees the chance to try new things and push themselves without the fear of failure hanging over them.

The more confident and supported an employee will feel in their role, the more engaged and more optimistic they’ll be.


If there’s one thing that can devastate workplace motivation, it’s being overly micromanaged.

Your employees have been hired because they brought something valuable to the table; be it their skills, talents or insights unique to each and every member of staff. Micromanaging them can lead to a breakdown of trust between employees and a dependency on others rather than the confidence to perform tasks on their own.

It’s also an aspect of work which employees can find immensely frustrating. That lack of trust to get work done or constant interference can lead to people simply walking away from their roles and valuable skills and experience leaving with them.

Free downloadable resource: Employee Motivation Cheat Sheet  Are you struggling to keep your workforce motivated throughout the year?  Download our free Employee Motivation Cheat Sheetand see how you can reduce the  slump! 


Employees will feel at their most confident when they’re clear as to what is expected of them and when they need to do it.

If something is required by 4pm, avoid sending chaser emails during the day as this can simply add unnecessary pressure. Wherever possible, avoid changing plans at the last minute or simply assuming that someone will be clear on a vague request.

If your staff are clear on what is required from the outset, you can trust in them to deliver.


Dwelling on past mistakes or let-downs won’t encourage a positive workplace culture.

Whilst you may feel the need to bring up past issues as a reminder to avoid future failure, it can act as a self-fulfilling prophecy and kill off team confidence altogether. After all, why even bother if you’re constantly reminded of the times you’ve tried and failed?

Focus on the positive things your employees do and what your business does. Refer to past wins for that little bit of inspiration your team might need – it’ll act as a far more positive motivator than staring into the abyss.


If business is tough going, don’t resort to a hard or distant demeanour. Try to have fun, smile, laugh, be genuine! These emotions are far more conducive to a positive working environment and can also keep your mental wellbeing in check.

It might feel like an uphill battle but injecting some joy into the workplace can encourage longer-lasting engagement. It’s simple stuff: your employees will be far more willing to work longer and give more if they’re happy in their work.


It’s natural and right for businesses to have targets and goals to attain. But consistently setting goals that are either extremely difficult or unrealistic will destroy your employee’s motivation in an instant! It may seem like you’re inspiring your employees to achieve greatness, but it’ll actually have the exact opposite effect.

If your employees know deep down they can’t reach their targets, you’ll most likely find they’ll give up busting a gut trying to even reach them. As a consequence, productivity will plummet, confidence will drain away and you may find yourself simply having to conduct more and more exit interviews as employees take their talents elsewhere.

Instead, give your staff achievable targets and let them know what is expected of them. If you feel they can do more, discuss more challenging targets with them and offer they'll know what's expected of them, and they'll feel like they're being treated fairly.


Lastly, it might sound a little excessive, but it’s really not! Offering bespoke or tailored rewards and incentives is actually delightfully simple and cost effective.

Taking the time to get to know your staff means that when it comes to recognising their hard work or incentivising going above and beyond, you can maximise your staff recognition and offer a more personal reward that really resonates with them. Don’t just resort to a bottle of wine (not everyone enjoys it), a box of chocolates (lame) or the prospect of a cash bonus (can become expensive if the norm…).

Little things like a few hours away from the office for people who have worked lot of unpaid overtime. A couple of cinema vouchers for staff who might be on lower wages, or a reward gift card to allow your staff to treat themselves to something they really want.

Tailored rewards and incentives genuinely are fantastic staff motivators. Not only do they inspire employees to go that extra mile, they also show that their employers value their contributions.

Once you get into the habit of recognising and rewarding positive behaviours in the workplace, your employees will really start to love their jobs – and isn’t that what everyone really wants from their careers?


Keeping staff motivated is just a small part of positive company culture. And a positive company culture is essential to success, retention and productivity. Get the full lowdown on how you can nurture a positive company culture by checking out our online guide - just hit the link below to find out more!

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