6 Ways to Motivate and Retain Your Employees

In an age when many employees have breakfast, lunch, dinner, dry cleaning, gym memberships, and massages paid for by their firms, why do less than 40% of them feel “engaged” in their work? Why do 2 million Americans voluntarily leave their jobs every month?

It’s quite simple, actually. They don’t feel the love.

Contrary to popular belief, perks like free gourmet coffee and energy bars are not that motivating. Once novel, perks are often thought of as par for the course in today’s job market. They might seem interesting to job seekers fresh out of school, but they aren’t motivating for most employees who have seen free lunches before.

To motivate and keep employees you have to give them things you can’t buy in bulk from Costco — your interest, attention, and inspiration.

“Nooooo! I’m already strapped. I have so little time for everything that’s on my plate. How am I supposed to make time to ‘coddle’ people?”

Perhaps that’s part of the problem. If you’re too busy to give your employees genuine interest and undivided attention — even for 15 minutes a week — then you are failing at one of the core duties of managers: delegation.

Here are 6 simple ways to motivate and retain your employees with intangible perks:

  1. Invest in their Development. When Josh Bersin at Deloitte surveyed employees in 2015, he found that “training and development” was the most coveted job benefit, especially among millennials. That was above more vacation, cash bonuses, and flexible work hours. Employers that try to lock employees into roles for long periods of time demonstrate that they are putting themselves and the company above the employees, which is the fastest way to erode loyalty.
  2. Challenge Them. Contrary to popular belief, no one wants to be lazy at work. Laziness and low performance are most often symptoms of the work not being interesting or challenging enough, not an employee’s innate lack of motivation. This is especially true for High Potentials. Aspire to give everyone on your team work that is just beyond their reach. Trust them with decision-making in ways that make you feel slightly uncomfortable.
  3. Stop and Ask Them What They Need. There’s really nothing like someone checking in to make sure you’re “all good.” Rather than focusing on what you need from them (per usual), the simple act of asking what they need from you to be successful makes them feel supported and nurtured. More than you know.
  4. Look Them in the Eye and Say Thank You. Since we were infants in our mother’s arms, engaged eye contact with people we look up to has showered our brains with chemicals like Oxytocin and Dopamine — the building blocks of loyalty and engagement. Not that you want to overdo it, but a simple look in the eye coupled with a heartfelt “Thank you!” can make someone’s week.
  5. Give Them Public Recognition. No matter what people say, everyone loves public recognition in some form — positive recognition, that is. A quick but sincere “Attaboy” or “Attagirl” in a staff meeting for a team member who exceeded expectations can fill their heart with pride and leave them glowing all day.
  6. Don’t Be an Asshole, and Apologize if You Are. All your efforts to motivate and retain your employees will be for naught if you’re an asshole boss the rest of the time. Nepotism, unrestrained anger, disrespectful language and hurtful looks can undermine weeks of relationship building in a matter of seconds. If you do slip up, own it and apologize.

A Final Word on Moderation: It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of wanting your employees to love you. You want to be a family. But “easy does it” warns Dave Pottruck, former CEO of Charles Schwab and now adjunct professor at Wharton. His advice? “Be Friendly, but not Friends.” Pottruck says that it’s important to be affable and interested in your employees, but to avoid the tendency to get too close to them. After work happy hour now and again? Yes. Weekend ski trips and co-mingling of friend networks? Not so much.

Good luck! Let me know what works for you in the comments below.