If there is one thing that we all have learned from the pandemic, it's this: life is unpredictable, and its uncertainty is terrifying. Forrest Gump's mum expressed it rather well:
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get”
News headlines popping up on the bright screen of every phone. “A rise in Covid-19 cases once again”. “9000+ employees laid off across startups”. This dystopian global narrative accompanied by personal tragedies was surely a shared experience. We found ourselves bound together in a web of loss and resilience.
Try as we might, building infallible boundaries between work and life isn't possible. The personal inevitably leaks into the professional. It's unreasonable to expect people to behave normally at work when their experiences have been anything but that.
We can do little to predict when it strikes, but here is what we can do, as managers, HR teams, and colleagues, to motivate our team through adversity.
1) Assign Tasks Based on Individual Interests and Abilities.
The employee's perception of the task is the most crucial part of employee motivation. It's essential to get this right, especially when your employees are going through a hard time. A task that matches their abilities would foster a sense of accomplishment, raising morale.
The ideal task would be aligned with the employee's area of interest and strengths, which fuels their intrinsic motivation. In his best-selling book Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham wrote "great organisations must not only accommodate the fact that each employee is different, they must capitalise on it". You can do this by recognising their strengths and assigning tasks that help them develop those into an asset. This increases productivity and employee motivation. It is also one of the best employee retention tips as it halves the employee turnover rate according to the Gallup organisation's research.
Additionally, The tasks assigned should be challenging but just the right amount. The balance of it is sensitive as there is a fine line between challenging and overwhelming. If your team believes that they couldn't possibly achieve the goals set, they won't bother trying. And if a task is not perceived as challenging enough, It becomes boring. Both these situations will eat away at their reserves of motivation.
The easiest way to get this right? Consult your employees while setting goals for tasks.
They are the experts on their abilities and interests.
2) Offer a Flexible Working Environment
Flexibility may not directly motivate your team, but it will surely make their lives easier. Most people enjoy a fairly full and rich life outside of work (as they should). Flexibility will allow them to slow down when they need to, spend time nurturing and replenishing themselves, be with their families and catch up on chores outside of work, leading to a significant increase in employee happiness and satisfaction. That is a desirable outcome because, according to the research of Prof. Andrew J Oswald from the University of Warwick, satisfied employees are more likely to stay motivated through adversity.
So how do we incorporate flexibility into our work culture? There are many ways to go about it, like offering flexible working hours and letting employees participate in decision-making processes.
However, the most common and effective way would be to switch to a hybrid work model.
In a 2021 study, McKinsey & Company analysed 200 tasks across nine countries. Their findings report that employees working remotely have been more productive and satisfied, so it's a win-win for both the companies and employees.
3) Purpose-Driven work
Viktor E. Frankl, in his book Man's Search For Meaning, wrote, "He who knows the why will be able to bear with almost any how". This philosophy applies to organisations as well as it does to any other aspect of life. Purpose triumphs all. You should work on finding out your company's why and help employees map out their OKRs to the company’s OKR.
"Whether or not employees perceive their work as meaningful primarily depends on the subjective interpretation of work and less on the objective reality", says Kenneth Velthouse, author of Cognitive Elements of Empowerment. You can mould your team's perception of their tasks and help them understand that their work is meaningful. Their job isn't just to write a few lines of code; no, it's to help develop an app that improves the lives of others.
Research in the field of organisational psychology has shown the positive outcomes of meaningful work. Findings state that employees who believe they are doing something meaningful are more productive and are less likely to experience burnout.
4) Rewards and Encouragement
Ever felt like you focus more on the mistakes of your colleagues than on what they do correctly? You're not alone. Most humans have a built-in negativity bias resulting from a few thousand years of evolution. This means we focus more on what's being done wrong than what’s being done well–because that trait has helped us survive. It's time to train out that bias, hard as it is, and be more appreciative of what is done well.
It’s important to appreciate people for their hard work and efforts–-and make your team feel seen, like they are not just another screw in a mechanical system. It boosts morale almost immediately. It's simple, If you wish to see a behaviour repeated, you must reward it.
Rewards come in several forms, from praise to promotion. The best rewards are the ones that have been personalised to fit the employee's needs and personality. A few days of downtime for an overworked employee fits their needs better than a party to celebrate their achievements.
5) Employee Friendly Policies
During difficult times, an email from the HR team, well-intentioned as it may be, pales as a response to the reality of your employees. It's necessary to make efforts to assure them that they are not just means to an end for your company to earn a profit, that they matter as individuals.
Your company can craft employee-friendly policies to serve this need, best accomplished by asking your team what would help them the best (remember, they are the expert). You can do this through an office-wide survey or one-on-one informal conversations with your team members.
Employee friendly initiatives can look like flexible working hours, a four day work week or a hybrid work model to support work life balance. Practices like offering efficient health insurance policies also help build a culture of employee well being and satisfaction, which catalyzes motivation, as covered before.
6) Create a supportive environment
To build a supportive atmosphere, you'll have to operate from a place of empathy and warmth. If your team has been having a hard time, having a supportive and understanding presence would do wonders for their well-being. Make sure that your team members feel free to discuss what's on their minds with you. Having regular sessions with them to share concerns and reassure them is one way to nurture a sense of togetherness.
Your empathetic behaviour will set an example for the rest of your team. Which will help them form more personal, emotional bonds with their colleagues.
It's always a good idea to seek out the help of a professional to offer psychological support. Many companies have tie-ups with mental health organisations that help them conduct support groups. If workable, you could establish a similar arrangement.
Don't forget to take care of yourself. This is not optional. While trying to build a better work environment for your team is admirable, don't stretch yourself thin doing it. You can't pour from an empty cup, so ensure that you extend the same warmth and empathy to yourself.