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How to keep your team motivated

As many Australians feel the combined pressures of the economy and world events, the flu starts to bite, and the full weight of reduced hybrid working and increased travel takes hold, productivity can start to decline. In this article we look at how we can keep our team motivated and powering along, even as that half-yearly drain kicks in.

I can't believe it's already April... well, nearly May actually. I know we say it every year, but wow, the time since Christmas has really flown and seems to be flying by faster and faster as I get older.

And it's like that for a lot of people. As we age and we pile on more-and-more demands, we commit to career growth, chase after kids, fulfil family and friend obligations, and all the rest, so much time is chewed up, and so little is remaining, it's easy to feel like we don't know where it could possibly have gone.

Reality is, at times, we all feel like this. You do. Your kids do. Your dog probably does. And most important, for the purposes of this article, your team does too.

Research often tells us that December and January are usually the times of year most people feel least motivated at work, and historically, workplaces do the most to keep them going at those points. Fast Company, however, reports that actually April, May and October appear to be some of the 'laziest' months, and to me, that makes a lot of sense.

As we head towards the middle of the year, especially here in Australia, the weather starts to cool (at least our version of cool), the days feel longer, we get less sunlight because we leave in the dark and get home in the dark, and most notably, it is THE LONGEST STRETCH between Chrissy holidays.

It's easy, when staring at a big ol' wall of work behind us and in front of us, to start to feel a little demotivated. As leaders, we know when that happens, when that tiredness and that sense of monotony creeps in, output and productivity fall, and so does our bottom line.

After working in internal comms for many years, motivating others has become almost second nature to me. If I wasn't devising strategies for my workplace or my clients to keep their teams high-spirited and high-performing, I was subconsciously bringing out individual pep talks to re-energise family and friends.

And what did I learn from all of that?

Not everyone is motivated by the same things, so employing a range of different approaches can make all the difference. Here are a few to get you started:

Make them a part of something bigger

The truth is, most us don't work in jobs that are life-and-death (some of you do, and props to you, that looks exhausting and stressful), so when we get to our most tired, it can start to become more difficult to find meaning and purpose in what we're doing.

As we get older and that tiredness sets in a bit, that loss of meaning and purpose can become somewhat of a crisis that can be tricky to shake.

As a leader, a big part of your job is to help provide that meaning and define that purpose. Don't BS them, don't make them think this is life-and-death if it's not, but show them how important your business is in its own way, and what role they play in keeping it going.

If, as people, we can find purpose, if we can understand why we are getting up every morning, it just makes life easier. And remember, your own passion can be contagious; telling and showing them how much this means to you and why, can help them see the light and find their motivation!

Enable actual balance

Did you know that tired, overworked, unrested people are less productive and create less value for your company? Obvious, right? And yet, you talk to 80% of people out there and they'll say they are overworked, that their company needs to hire more people, that they can't do it all!

While I understand managing overheads and not letting costs get too high, it's still beyond me why so many workplaces simply understaff. They hire one person, knowing full-well that person will be doing at least one and a half jobs, if not more.

And for a while -- when that person is fresh and new -- it works. But after not too long, that person is drained, feels used up and can't give each task the energy it requires.

Hire the RIGHT amount of people or just don't overcommit -- don't take on work or orders for 10 clients, if the staff you have can only manage six on full-time workloads.

Empower them with balance, send them home on time, encourage them to log off at home and spend time with their families, to exercise, to eat right. They will thank you for it in the form of energised, motivated work that improves your bottom line.

This one is a simple equation, yet so many get it wrong.

Learn their love language

Now, I'm going to admit, I always find the whole love language thing a bit cringe, but the fact is, we do all like to be rewarded, acknowledged and appreciated in different ways.

For years, I worked in a job for a manager who loved to give a pat on the back -- sometimes a literal pat. But I was never that person. I am very self-validated, I know if I've done work I can be truly proud of, or if I've not been given the time, resource, capacity to do the job as well as I'd like. Being told 'good job' just wasn't my thing.

As someone who obsessively worked a lot of hours though, and missed out on valuable experiences with my family, what I did find rewarding was time. So, in a later job, when my boss came to me and said, 'You've done so much, we've made so much progress, I see how late your work each night, why don't you start taking Friday as a flex day', I was tickled pink -- I felt appreciated, acknowledged and understood... and I worked even harder for her from then on!

Find what it is that your employee views as a reward, not what you think is a reward, and do that for them, it will make a big difference.

Gamify and create fun rivalry

Before we dive into this one, let me start by warning that it needs to be approached very carefully, with your people, their personalities and your culture in mind.

In the past, I've worked in cultures that were quite meek, full of studious people who liked to go about their business quietly and get the job done. Against my better judgement, management introduced competitions to boost productivity, and no surprise, it had the exact opposite impact than desired.

These poor teams of very high-functioning people, suddenly became stressed and felt really insecure, they worried about their jobs and felt they were being pitted against each other in some sort of Hunger Games-type scenario that would see some of them dramatically evicted from the arena.

With that in mind, gamification can work, regardless of your culture, it just needs to be the right type of gamification.

We've very successfully introduced incentivised competition into recruitment and real estate businesses, with great results, while in less assertive cultures, we've created incentivised common goals for people to work towards together, bringing them closer, and motivating them to do better, for the greater good.

-- -- --

Motivation is a funny thing, because in workplaces we talk about it like it's collective, like everyone is unmotivated at the same time, or in contrast, motivated at the same time. Like everyone feels that way for the same reasons. Like we can 'trick' them into being more productive together.

The fact is though, motivation or lack of it can be a really individual and personal thing, so the best place to start when trying to turn it around is just to talk to your people one-on-one, find out what's going on, what they need, and how you can help.

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