How to Motivate Your Employees in Difficult Times

Coronavirus consumed our world, leaving no corner untouched. Everyday life ground to a halt and our landscape changed, perhaps forever. Even now, with the promise of vaccination and a return to normality, everything still feels pretty bleak.

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The fallout from COVID19 has been nothing short of massive. The days, months and even years that stretch out ahead of us promise to be challenging. It is believed that the economic crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus will be more severe than the one the world faced after the Second World War.

But beyond the stock prices, profit margins and sales figures, there are millions of people who are worried, fed up, bored and unmotivated.

Amid grave human and economic loss, discussing the loss of motivation may sound pretty trivial but, in reality, they are intrinsically connected. When every day is filled with news of redundancies and business closures, your employees are bound to be affected.

A motivated employee is, typically, a more successful employee, so it is not a trivial matter at all. But how can you create a sense of security for your employees in difficult times? How can you ensure that uncertainty does not take over and hamper their work performance? Let’s explore a few key things.

Do not make promises you can’t keep

Achieving motivation in difficult times can be broken into two categories: short-term motivation and long-term motivation.

Throwing unsubstantiated promises or mistruths around will quickly allay uncertainty and motivate your employees now. However, when those promises fall through, your employees will feel more demotivated and, worse still, deceived. 

Instead, your employees will appreciate a level of directness and transparency. While reality may not be quite as attractive or hopeful, honesty helps to build a more trusting, inclusive bond between you and your employees.

Your employees may ordinarily look to you for answers, but that does not mean they expect you to have the answers all the time. No one can predict the future or guess how the economy might look in a year, now more so than ever. Your employees will not think any less of you for not being pumped with unwavering confidence and optimism.

Moreover, transparency leaves little room for gossip. If you promise always to be honest with your employees, then they will have no need to discuss and make presumptions amongst themselves. With everyone on the same page, there will be less chance for your words to be exaggerated, misconstrued or taken out of context. This will create a more stable, sustainable and non-confrontational working environment.

Keep the door to your office open

While being verbally transparent with your employees is beneficial, physical transparency can also be helpful.

Previously, you may have had certain times that detailed when knocking on the door was acceptable and when it was not. However, this may feel quite restrictive and isolating for employees who may already be feeling restricted and isolated because of the pandemic.

If you sit in an office separate to your employees, keep the door open in between meetings. This will ensure your employees know you are approachable and a part of the team.

If this is not possible because of confidential meetings or sound levels, be sure to regularly walk around the office to check in with your employees and show that you are available for a chat.

Keeping your office door open is not just beneficial for employee morale, but also your intuition and understanding of your team. With your office door open, you will gain a better understanding of how your employees are feeling and their energy as a team.

Make the work environment as cosy as possible

This doesn’t mean that you have to deck out your office with beach chairs, (although you can if you want to!), but improving the working environment can directly affect motivation and performance, so it is worth investing in.

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Offering to upgrade desk chairs or installing breakout areas shows that you care about your employees’ comfort and you believe they are worth investing in. Physical comfort translates into emotional comfort, helping to destress your employees.

Remember, many full-time employees spend almost as much time in the office as they do in their own homes, so it is important to take pride in how your office looks. By sprucing up space with houseplants and pictures, your employees will feel more comfortable and at home.

It is beneficial to improve your workspace regularly. A fresh, new aesthetic will help generate fresh, new ideas. By regularly improving your office furnishings, your employees will feel as renewed and rejuvenated as their surroundings.

Give credit to your employees

While it is important to highlight mistakes and unproductive behaviour when was the last time you praised or rewarded your employees?

An encouraging, complimentary email or announcement is a simple, free way of motivating your employees. Whether you praise the work of an individual or a whole team, your employees will be pleased to know that you appreciate their effort and hard work.

Occasionally surprising your team with delicious food is a great way to reward their hard work. Not only does it show your appreciation, but it also makes their day feel a little more interesting. It is also a social opportunity to open up conversations and grasp the morale.

Or better yet, recognise their efforts with a gift. A praising email can be written in seconds, but a gift shows that you have put thought, time and money into their reward. A dignified corporate souvenir or a piece of jewellery, such as badges or cufflinks is a thoughtful yet appropriate token of your appreciation.

Branded Corporate Jewellery

You may be interested in our blog post: How to Use Corporate Jewellery As A Motivational Tool

Arrange brainstorming sessions

Most businesses are built around a hierarchy, but this can be isolating for your employees and also detrimental to your business. Brainstorming sessions where everyone gets to express their opinions and make suggestions is a great way to improve work culture.

You could use these sessions to try to figure out how to survive the crisis successfully. Alternatively, you could discuss what new business opportunities could be seized in the current situation.

Collaborative sessions allow employees to feel like they are integral to the business. Plus, you may uncover some great, unexpected ideas that could bring business success and prosperity.

Even the employee in the lowest position can come up with an innovative idea that benefits everyone. Have you heard the story of the hotel janitor who pioneered the idea of building an elevator on the outside wall of a building?

This happened at the El Cortez hotel in Sao Paolo, where the hotel owners and architects needed to install a second lift in the hotel. However, no one wanted to close the whole building during the construction work. The janitor, who happened to hear this discussion, asked why the elevator could not be placed outside the hotel. Without egos and hierarchies, architectural history was made.

When an employee’s idea is recognised and implemented, that employee is bound to feel a strong sense of pride and accomplishment that will motivate them for a long time.

Let employees be involved in the development and future of the company.


Give them a chance to take responsibility

Times are strange. Most people’s instincts tell them to resist change but, instead, you could try embracing it.

Amid so much change, now could be an ideal time to ask your employees if they would like to take on more responsibility or diversify their role. Giving your employees new opportunities will give them the challenge to focus on and distract them from the uncertainty.

By allowing your employees to take on more responsibilities, you will also be allowing them to showcase their capabilities and potential.

Of course, this is a risk. Your employees may not thrive in their new roles in the way that they hoped. But, in such challenging times, taking a calculated risk could be the difference between success and failure.

Recognise if there are employees at risk of burnout

With greater responsibility and workload, there is an added risk of burnout. Some employees may see the difficulty that the company is in and take on more responsibility in the hope it might help, compromising their own wellbeing.

An economic crisis puts businesses under a lot of strain, but it is not up to your employees to carry that burden. The fact that your employees are willing to adopt additional tasks shows how motivated and invested they are in the company. However, if they do burnout, then that motivation will be destroyed entirely.

Try to recognise the signs of burnout in your employees. It is important to do this as a duty of care for your employees, but also for your company. Burnout can result in extended absences, mistakes and resignations, so it is important to spot early on.

Of course, you could be at risk of burnout too. Recognise your limitations and understand that the consequences of burnout could be detrimental to yourself, your employees and your business.

Discuss with your employees where it is possible to cut back

By opening up conversations about cutbacks with your employees, they are likely to consider the financial implications of every decision they make.

If you, as an employer, highlight that you are mindful of finances, then your employees are likely to be frugal too. With a shared goal in mind, your employees will feel motivated to work together as a team to keep the company afloat.

This team spirit creates a great sense of accomplishment and, when it is successful, it can be easily paired with a reward or gift. These discussions create motivation that really materialises a few months down the line when your employees learn that they helped the company survive, progress and succeed.

Deal with those who are dissatisfied

2020 has ensured we are no stranger to the concept of exponential growth, and it applies to dissatisfaction too. One dissatisfied employee can quickly spread their pessimism throughout the team, so it needs to be addressed and rectified quickly.

This does not need to be a harsh or punishing conversation. Instead, it is an opportunity to examine why that employee is dissatisfied. Maybe they feel ignored or isolated, or perhaps they are struggling with the workload or pressure. 

By initiating a constructive conversation with your employees rather than allowing their dissatisfaction to fester, you are showing your employees that you care. You will also be proving to them that they are important to you. When you engage in conversations like these, it is important to separate your employee’s work from their mindset. There might be an employee who is consistently successful and productive, but, if they are dissatisfied, this can poison your office’s atmosphere and hamper the motivation of a whole team.

React to gossip

This is a tale as old as time. A soundbite of truth quickly snowballs into a destructive, harmful lie as it gets passed between employees.

Contrary to popular belief, gossip is very rarely intended to be malicious. However, details can be easily misconstrued and, once it has been passed between 30 employees, the truth is indecipherable.

We often think of gossip as trivial and insignificant but, in office culture, gossip can detail redundancies, disciplinaries, figures and individual performance. Gossip can be seriously detrimental to motivation levels and, if the gossip is untrue, then it could be causing unnecessary damage.

So, it is best to address gossip quickly and efficiently.

If gossip is circulating amongst your employees, gather the team for a quick meeting and make sure you are all on the same page. Reiterate that your office door is open and they should always come to you with their questions.

Keep up the good spirit

While transparency is a useful tool for motivation, it is important not to broadcast how worried you actually are. As an employer, your employees will look up to you, and if you’re worried, your employees will be worried too.

You may well be worried about the future and, with your knowledge of the business’ performance, you may have good reason to be worried. But your employees won’t know the situation in as much detail as you do. If they sense that you are worried, but they don’t have the facts and figures behind it, their worry may quickly turn in to hysteria and panic.

Similarly, if you seem unmotivated, then your employees will see little point in being motivated themselves.

However, this doesn’t mean you should lie or evade the truth. Instead, you should stay positive and focus on solutions rather than problems.

Staying positive in difficult times is no mean feat, so it’s important to take each day as it comes and celebrate small successes. The future will always be unnerving because it’s unknown, but that has always been the case.

This year has taught everyone how quickly life can change, and while it changed negatively this year, it could change positively next year.

Keep yourself and your employees motivated, and you might just find that things improve as quickly as they deteriorated.

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