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Staff motivation: Techniques, examples and quotes from SMEs

What is staff motivation and why is it important?

Staff motivation is a complex subject, intertwined with employee engagement and productivity. These three areas are becoming increasingly significant for businesses of all sizes. And yet, according to recent research, employee motivation levels are actually declining. The Living to Work” report found that 29% of employees surveyed were not motivated at work in 2017. In comparison, 18% said they weren?t motivated at work in 2016.

So what can businesses do to improve employee motivation” Real Business takes a look at what staff motivation is, why it’s important, techniques to improve employee motivation and the wider importance of company culture.

What is staff motivation and why is it important?

In the workplace, we tend to think of staff motivation as the level of effort, energy and enthusiasm that employees bring to their jobs. But this is only half the story.

Motivation is the reason people behave in a particular way. Staff motivation, therefore, is really about giving your employees a reason to behave in a certain way at work. Of course, motivation can be positive or negative. If you want your employees to treat the company like it’s their own, for example, you need to give them a good reason to do so.

Motivating your employees is crucial because it will help your business achieve its objectives. The more motivated your employees feel, the more they will:

  • Be more committed, and produce better work
  • ?Want to develop at your company, providing a greater range of skills
  • ?Work more efficiently, and be more productive
  • “Create a healthy company culture others will want to be part of

Together, these changes in behaviour help your business to retain employees, increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction and become more profitable.

As research from Deloitte has shown, companies that reward staff for achievements which align with organisational goals are most likely to expect growth of 10% or more. Of course, setting goals works on an individual level too. Gallup found that employees whose managers involve them in setting goals are 3.6 times more likely to be engaged with their work than other employees.

In contrast, demotivated staff are more likely to work inefficiently, produce poor-quality work, create a culture that’s unpleasant for others and leave your company.

Here’s a great video from Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work, on what makes employees happy at work.


It’s one thing to understand what motivates people and makes them happy. As an SME, however, it can be quite another to put effective measures in place that actually motivate your employees.

Here are some great examples of techniques that SMEs have used to improve staff motivation and the results they?ve achieved.

Tips, examples and techniques for improving staff motivation

BigChange: Provide inspiration

Launched in 2013, BigChange employs 100 people and provides mobile workforce management technologies to workers at over 800 organisations. The Leeds-based company invests significantly in the wellbeing of its staff to ensure the team remains motivated and engaged. Many of these strategies are cheap or free, but elicit a great response.

BigChange knows how to improve staff motivation

BigChange provides perks such as gym membership, a massage therapist and fresh fruit each day. The company also provides food for thought. On the first Monday of every month, BigChange invites inspirational speakers who have overcome challenges or adversity to share their stories. The company runs a popular ?Star of the Week” scheme to recognise great work and effort on a regular basis. There is no reward but praise, but as a peer-to-peer initiative it provides important camaraderie. As a result, the company enjoys an employee retention rate of 97%.

Heat Recruitment: Give employees targets and rewards

According to a study by Globoforce, employees receiving small rewards on a regular basis are eight times more engaged than those receiving annual compensation or bonus increases. Rewards could be money, points or thanks.

The study’s findings appear to be confirmed once more by Heat, a specialist recruitment agency that covers engineering, IT, legal, insurance and financial services. Established in 2006, the Bristol-based company places staff motivation and wellness first and foremost.

To motivate staff, the company runs weekly, monthly and quarterly ad-hoc competitions and prizes. Longer term, Heat rewards yearly top performers with extra holiday and month-long sabbaticals for every five years of service. Other perks include ?duvet days” and a free onsite gym.

Heat has experienced employee growth of over 60% from 2017 to 2018. The company also made 28 internal promotions in 2018, and has seen its employee retention rate rise from 64% in 2017 to 82% in 2018. The implementation of duvet days has also decreased the AWOL rate to 1.5 days per year.

Moneypenny: Trust your staff

Founded by a brother and sister in 2000, Moneypenny is a leading provider of telephone answering, live chat and customer contact solutions. The company serves businesses large and small, but with over 750 staff in the UK and the US it is by no means an SME. This doesn’t, however, mean the company can’t teach us anything.

The Moneypenny ethos is to treat others as you would like them to treat you. And for many people, as Michael C. Bush highlights above, trust is hugely important. It is certainly integral to Moneypenny’s company culture. Rather than conduct traditional staff appraisals, employees carry out self appraisals. They rate their own performance and assess where they can improve. This isn’t the only instance of Moneypenny giving staff ownership of their work. Moneypenny trusts staff to answer calls in the best way they can, and gives them no script to work from.

Moneypenny trusts its staff and enjoys high staff motivation
Moneypenny’s offices, designed with staff input

Along with two reward and recognition schemes, Moneypenny’s trusting approach pays off. The company enjoys staff turnover of less than 5%, receives 3,000 unsolicited CVs each year, has a rating of 3.9 on Glassdoor and features consistently in The Sunday Times £100 Best Companies to Work For?.

Scriba PR: Invest in staff development

Based in Huddersfield, Scriba PR is an award-winning public relations consultancy. Established in 2013, the company is known for its technical PR expertise in sectors such as recycling, engineering, construction and software.

Scriba PR has invested 14% of turnover in staff development since day one. The company runs mentoring sessions, quarterly away days, peer-to-peer learning sessions and an employee awards scheme. As a result, the company has grown significantly from small beginnings in 2013. Now nine strong, only two employees have moved on in six years (one to set up a company, the other to travel the world).

Mayden: Try new ways of working

Founded in 2004, Mayden designs, builds and supports cloud-based systems for healthcare services in the UK and abroad. Based in Bath, the company works closely with partner services and patients to create software that truly supports them.

For a time, staff morale at Mayden was low. An outdated way of working, siloed teams and a lack of variety made tasks less interesting and issues hard to address. But Mayden, as a software company, needed to focus on rapid development and flexibility to stay ahead of the competition. The company brought in a Scrum Alliance coach to implement an Agile framework. Agile is a new mindset and way of working that enables teams to succeed in uncertain environments.

Results came quickly. Agile empowered staff to divide work as they saw fit, freeing up the project lead for other responsibilities. The development team became significantly more enthusiastic, took ownership of their work and felt better equipped to tackle tasks. The team were able to deliver products in half the time, and Mayden won Development Team of the Year at the 2018 UK IT Industry awards.

PB Supercar Hire: Allow flexible working

In 2017, web-meeting provider PowWowNow’s Smarter Working survey found that 58% of people believed working away from the office would increase their motivation.

Luxury car-rental specialist PB Supercar Hire appears to confirm the survey’s findings. Established in 2006 and based in Canary Wharf, the company caters to city professionals year round, and wedding-goers during the summer.

Rigid working hours and routines were demotivating the team. Clients would arrive later in the day, leaving staff waiting for long periods of time with only admin to occupy them.

PB Supercar Hire decided to trial flexible working hours to increase employee motivation. Each week, one team member took responsibility for receiving main-office calls to their mobile. Staff only needed to come in for client meetings and were free to spend the rest of their time as they wished. In return, employees were on call until 10pm, rather than switching off at 5pm.

Within four weeks, the team’s motivation was obvious to clients and management alike. 12 months later, business has increased by 35% compared to the previous three years combined, all due to client referrals. The company hasn’t received a single complaint in the last 12 months relating to customer service.

Radioactive Public Relations: Implement a four-day working week

Founded in 2014, Radioactive Public Relations is a communications agency based in Gloucester. The agency works with consumer and business-to-business companies, delivering creative campaigns and reputation-enhancing PR.

Rich Leigh, founder of Radioactive PR, believes that happy staff do great work for happy clients. Business was going well, so he decided to trial a four-day work week without cutting staff pay. The trial was a success. The standard of work stayed high and clients remained happy.

Six months in, the results spoke for themselves. The agency continued to win new business, staff retention remained at 100% and sick days were down by 75%. Business earnings had more than doubled each year since the agency started in 2014. They did so again throughout 2018, having worked a four-day week for half of it.

Leigh also surveyed his employees. He asked them to rate on a scale of 0-10 if they felt more relaxed at home as a result of the four-day week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 100% answered 10.

Staff motivation quotes

In the spirit of motivation, here are some useful quotes on staff motivation from a range of SMEs and motivational experts.

Marianne Page of business consultancy & mentoring service MPL:

“Your team engagement and motivation is a reflection of your energy and commitment to them, and the amount that you share your business vision and progress, how much they feel involved.

David Holmes, founder of Boiler Guide:

?What I’ve learnt is that staff are most motivated when they feel valued as people, not just as employees. Positivity and team spirit has to be organic and comes from the quality and flexibility of the working environment.

Simon Sinek, author and motivational speaker:

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.

John Armstrong, co-founder of Custom Planet:

Although money is a motivating factor, it is only a very small part of what motivates people to work. Actually enjoying your working environment is far more conducive to staff morale and motivation. Social recognition is a big thing for us, so we use messaging apps one for the whole company and one for individual departments. We use them to publicly praise people and thank them when things have gone well?.

Rich Leigh, founder of Radioactive PR:

A tip for anyone trying various techniques to improve staff motivation is to trial and test them and measure the results of putting such benefits in place. If it’s not having a positive return or impact, then it’s not worth doing at all. Reviewing our four-day week was essential for deciding if it was here to stay and for ensuring a smooth transition.

The importance of strategy and culture

Staff motivation is a complex subject. As you?ll have seen above, businesses also function in very different ways. In some cases, especially in larger companies, following a certain technique may not be enough to motivate staff. There may be multiple factors at play, after all. A company may need to implement a wider, more radical culture change, underpinned by a strong strategy in order to truly increase staff motivation.

Creating a company culture that motivates people to produce great work can be difficult. Sound leadership, feeling valued, a manageable workload, career objectives, development opportunities, debate, job security and trust are all valuable motivators. How you work them into the fabric of your company is up to you.

This article was originally published on 23 April 2019 as part of our SME Company Culture Leaders campaign.


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