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A cyclical approach to motivating employees

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A cyclical approach to motivating employees

Every manager and business owner understands the challenge of keeping employees motivated. It requires a year long program and adaptive strategy to ensure staff are always performing at high levels. For many employers however, this takes on menial importance when it comes to productivity, with the basic incentives of monetary reward at the end of the year expected to yield results states Manpower South Africa.


“However, staff go through specific cycles of demotivation throughout the year and months and even through separate days of the week and hours of the day. Having a better understanding of the psychology behind these fluctuations can go a long way to improving productivity in the workplace,” states Lyndy Van Den Barselaar – Managing Director for Manpower Group South Africa.


“The traditional yearly bonus or thirteenth cheque is just not cutting it anymore as far as motivators go, and many businesses can attest to this in seeing staff performance pick up closer to bonus time or when personal performance assessments are due.”


With the change in the world economy after the 2008 economic downturn, business has changed from what had been working for decades to a new form of employer/employee relationship and many businesses are picking up on this and moving forward into the new ‘era’.


“It has been harder however for many employees to adjust to this shift. With the job and pay cuts as well as absence of bonuses in the credit crunch following 2008, businesses started to look at motivation in a new light. The bonus idea was no longer a ‘given’ and individuals became prized for their abilities in the workplace and the abilities to spread their skills across different job positions. This has been evolving over years prior to 2008, with performance appraisals and other forms of performance based rewards entering the workplace,” says Van Den Barselaar.


“However, in spite of this change, many businesses still face the daunting problem of motivating their employees to do more and to try and ascertain how and why employees become demotivated by certain events or times of the year, month, week or even day. Most employers are familiar with the basic cycles of motivation in their staff such as low motivation towards the end of the workday, the week and the year.”


“Understanding the cycles of your employees’ motivation can assist in remedying it at certain times. Changing work cycles or implementing motivational events around these times can increase motivation at low motivation level cycle periods. Businesses need to self assess the cycles of motivation in employees for their specific departments in order to narrow down job specific cycles of motivation, which will make the issue easier to address and remedy,” says Van Den Barselaar.


Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, in his notion of flow, cites three main reasons for employees disliking their jobs. The first is that the job is pointless. The second is that the work is boring and routine. The third is that the job is often stressful, especially when employees cannot get along with a supervisor or colleagues.


Based upon this, what can employees do to motivate staff better?



“Leadership is still the overriding factor in employee motivation, and is a key influencer in all the other staff motivation factors. Strong leadership will earn employees respect and also give an employee ‘value’.


Positive environment

Positive energy is vital to keep employees motivated and this can be done in various ways. On an individual level, it’s important to develop an individual’s strengths. This fosters a company philosophy of a can-do attitude. As a business it is crucial to have leaders in an organisation that can inspire people, not simply ensure they get their work done with an iron fist.


Making tasks enjoyable

Critical to motivation is the enjoyment of the task at hand and in many cases this can be as simple as changing the perspective of employees with regards to their position. Helping employees see their position as a valuable contribution and a purpose for enabling their own lives instead of grudge action, which they’re forced to perform to survive, can go a long way to increasing motivation.


External factors

On a cyclical level, motivation is often lost due to external factors – the end of the day means there may not be sufficient time to complete tasks, the end of the week means staff start winding down in anticipation for the weekend and the end of the year often sees the importance of tasks waning as employees attach less importance to the completion of tasks as ‘everyone else (including clients and partners)’ are also winding down and not placing as much importance on work issues, meaning less pressure.


Motivation is internal

Motivation therefore needs to stem from within the individuals themselves to place importance on the tasks at hand and this is where good leadership makes the difference. Respect for leaders and the need to garner their appreciation as well as the need to stimulate self worth by a ‘job well done’ are key drivers in this regard.


Motivating the motivator

But if motivation rests so much on management and leaders, who is motivating the motivator? Managers and business owners are just as prone to low levels of motivation and oftentimes more so than staff as they suffer from higher stress levels and more work and strategizing in order to guide and run the business. It is therefore just as critical for business owners to find ways of motivating themselves and appear self-motivated to employees. Finding reward in the success and growth of the business, and where it can be taken in the future, as well as the admiration of peers, is one avenue for business owners to concentrate on in order to gain motivation.


Higher degrees of emotional or financial stress may increase existing levels of hopelessness to a point where employees feel that regardless of what hey do, they simply will not be able to achieve what they need to in their personal life and so give up trying at work. 


“The festive season impacts people in a number of ways with regards to motivation from spending habits. One way in which it does this is that people get caught up in the exuberance and joyfulness and at times irresponsibility that comes with holiday time and forget about their financial obligations and debts so that they can use 13th cheques etc. to enjoy themselves rather than to pay off incremental debt from the past year. The result is a huge financial hangover in January and increased stress and pressure at the beginning of the following year to pay off even bigger debts due to holiday spending,” states clinical psychologist Dr Giada Del Fabbro.



“The other impact is that people often feel that they deserve a nice holiday at the end of the year or feel pressured to deliver in the form of Christmas presents and spoiling their loved ones at the end of the year. As a result, they may experience stress related to meeting these demands and expectations which could lead to putting in extra hours in the period before the festive season and burning themselves out in order to earn enough money to cater to expectations.”


“Whilst initially increasing work motivation, the resulting burnout will leave employees considerably demotivated with little energy to meet work demands and obligations and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Given that many employees may be facing this scenario, what happens is that you have a collective feeling or irritability, lethargy and lack of motivation in a single workforce which results in the festive season becoming anything but that. In order to cope with these feelings, employees may start using detrimental coping skills such as drinking more heavily, excessive use of recreational and pharmacological substances and smoking. Absenteeism will also increase, affecting the bottom line and end of year profit margins and financials for many companies in a negative manner,” explains Dr Del Fabbro.


Businesses have experienced growing debt stress levels through 2012. This becomes especially worrying in light of the state of unsecured lending in South Africa which has reached concerning levels of late driven by rapid growth in consumer spending. These levels are now likely to impact on employees’ levels of stress and motivation.


“Motivation requires fostering pride and accomplishment as well as personal growth and these concepts need to be applied through various means of managing staff. A well-motivated team will not only perform better but be more open to sharing ideas for the better running of the business. A manager or business owner will not be able to see into every corner of their business and having motivated and engaging employees is one way to improve company performance and see problems or opportunities early on through the eyes of employees,” concludes Van Den Barselaar.

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