Renowned management guru Henri Fayol knew how to motivate employees. At least, he recognised the importance of motivating employees, and devised guidelines to facilitate basic supporting principles. His ‘esprit de corps’ underlined that harmony is a great strength to an organisation. Fayol’s definition of successful management practices still holds weight in the 21st century.

There’s no shame in returning to basic principles to discover what motivates employees. Common-sense solutions often prevail. When supported by an empathetic approach to people’s needs and wants in the workplace, employee motivation could help businesses improve employee commitment, satisfaction, development and efficiency.

Yet, what sounds simple in principle may prove difficult in practice. This is why we’ve put together a few essential tips on how to motivate employees, to spark further discussion among senior leaders and managers.

Regularly praise to fuel employees’ emotional tanks

Who doesn’t love being recognised for a job well done? The trick for managers is to know when a job was well done. Furthermore, why was the job done well, and who else may have contributed to its success?

Employees generally appreciate being noticed. A manager who can make people feel valued may reveal that what motivates employees is specific acknowledgement of their efforts. For example, a sales team may nail a new client pitch, which is a cause for celebration and high-fives all around. If a manager only rewards the sales team, they may miss an opportunity to acknowledge and motivate the players on the periphery. Who helped the sales team put the presentations together? Who arranged for the client to be met at the airport, then chaperoned them to the office? Who greeted them at the door, took their coat and made coffee?

‘Good leaders create a culture of recognition’, says Kevin Murray of the CMI in his article Why praise feels so good. His theory is that by inviting employees to provide frequent examples of their work, opportunities are created to reciprocate with praise. The more we share our successes, the more we get to say well done. By knowing the details of who people are and what roles they play in the running of the business, a manager may more effectively use praise and acknowledgement as a force for good.

Positive and frequent affirmations ‘can put fuel in a worker’s emotional tank’.

How to motivate employees by leaving them be

Control over trust, and vice versa – it’s a delicate balancing act management teams may regularly grapple with. Of course, trust should be the preferred option. Motivating employees may be easier if managers encourage autonomy, which is about relinquishing control and trusting people to do their jobs.

With freedom to express themselves, employees may experience fewer episodes of workplace boredom, which could arise from having to complete mundane tasks. People need challenges. To avoid one in three professionals leaving because of boredom, encourage autonomy and avoid micromanaging.

Those employees that have specialised skills may not appreciate being micromanaged. PwC research says employees with specialised training are in demand, and they know it. Empowering specialists to express themselves creatively and autonomously could be an effective way to ensure they are happy. A significant 45% of specialist employees are more likely to recommend the organisation as a good place to work, too.

Respect, fairness and feedback

Treat people like adults. The respect we afford fellow human beings should be a given. The respect we show colleagues for their achievements, either individually or collectively, is something we could do more of. Research by Kevin Murray for the Chartered Management Institute revealed that 70% of managers feel they do respect employees at work, though less than 40% of employees agree. This shows there's room for improvement around respecting employees, and highlights the importance of self-awareness.

Being fair is essential. In an effort to be conscientious, an eager manager may praise an individual more than most. This could lead to disenchantment from that individual’s colleagues, who may feel undervalued or unappreciated. The solution is to see and recognise everyone’s input, and administer praise and reward equally and fairly.

When it comes to primary drivers of workplace happiness, Indeed research says belonging is the top driver of well-being, while pay falls in the middle of the pack.

Welcome honest feedback. Many organisations use surveys to gather employee feedback. Anonymous feedback can be useful, and may help companies retain talent, especially if employers act on feedback. The Guardian reports that 99% of surveyed workers were more likely to stay at a company that takes and acts on feedback (though 67% said their employers were either ‘horrible’ or just ‘OK’ at doing so). In the same survey, 82% of employees ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ agreed that they wish they received more recognition at work.

Yet, while anonymous feedback may be useful, how can managers improve how they respond to more direct feedback – perhaps from a frustrated employee in the heat of the moment? The wise thing to do in this instance is to stop and listen. 83% of UK employees feel people at their organisation are not heard fairly or equally. Therefore, if business leaders are to understand how to motivate employees effectively, listening must take centre stage.

Motivational cornerstones

There are other strategies to consider for motivating employees, such as helping employees achieve a good work-life balance, and being flexible (54% of office workers would leave their job if they could have one with more flexibility, says Gallup). This article has covered just a handful of essential starting points.

Praise, autonomy, respect, fairness and feedback may represent the cornerstones of employee motivation. Armed with these in mind, managers may find a happier, more content and motivated workforce within reach.