motivate employees

How to Motivate Employees in a Small Business

By John Packham

A major milestone in many small businesses is when the owner of the business makes a move from solo entrepreneur to hiring another employee or team of employees. Depending on the type of business, this milestone may be reached sooner than other types of businesses. For example, if you run a laser tag business, you probably need more than one employee to oversee all of the operations of the organization, but if you are a social media marketer, you might be able to get away without having to hire someone for a while.

Regardless of when the first employees come on your team, you are going to have the sometimes difficult job of motivating them to treat your business like it is theirs. We’ve all heard the horror stories of high turnover rates and how hard it can be to find and keep good employees. If you are in the process of hiring or have hired employees to work in your small business, here are some ways to keep them motivated.

Make the Work Relevant to Them

Regardless of the type of business you are running, there is plenty of opportunity for someone to engage with and contribute to the work. If you limit someone’s ability to “own” the job by dictating to them what they can and can’t do, you have already lost. Rather than lay out someone’s job description for them, try including them in the creation of it. Sure, you are going to have duties and tasks that need to be completed, but if you leave the “how” up to the employee, you may find that they are more motivated to take ownership of their role in your business.

To illustrate this point, consider how fast food restaurants lay out every single detail of a person’s job, from how they slather mayo on the buns to how they ring up an order on the cash register. There’s no much room for imagination and innovation. Consider then how a local restaurateur might run his diner: allowing his staff to come out from behind the counter to interact with customers, encouraging them to come up with daily specials for the menu, and giving them time to learn other jobs in the business. Such steps can lead to more enjoyment and more engagement in a workplace for new and seasoned employees.

Give Them Something to Work Toward

Rather than simply spell out what work needs to be done, ask your employees for their input on how things can be made better. By giving employees a chance to contribute to the growth and development of the company, you are solidifying their interest and investment in the work. If you run a small fuel station and think to yourself that you “just need someone to pump the gas” you are setting yourself up for failure. Anyone can pump fuel for a living. What you want is someone who is going to take a lot of pride in helping to keep the establishment in good working order, and that comes with goal setting, learning opportunities, and a chance for someone to prove themselves worthy of a job. To engage someone at that level, all you have to do is ask an employee what they want to get out of their job. If you ask questions of your employees in a way that lets them know you care about them as people, you’ll find that they will start to treat your business like their own and care about it like it is a living thing as well.

Provide Opportunities to Teach Other Employees

Most people don’t think about the learning opportunities that their job might provide, but the truth is that the workplace is a great place to engage in new learning opportunities. What’s even more exciting about that fact is that current employees can take on new roles, and find new motivation in their jobs, by helping to train new employees.

Let’s say you are hiring a new employee to oversee the social media aspects of your business. If you are like most businesses, you already have someone — who has another role or title — doing the job, and now it’s time to fill the role permanently. Have your current employee take on some of the responsibility of passing on the knowledge they have obtained to the new person. This also makes the transition from role to role easier for someone who might have certain responsibilities removed from them and given to someone else. When you include your current employees in major changes like this, you buy yourself some credibility and ensure that your existing employees continue to respect and engage in the working environment.

If you are at the point in your business growth that it’s time to hire a new employee, congratulations! It’s a big deal, and you might be a bit worried about hiring the right person. Consider hiring someone who has a very different skill set from your own so that you can learn from them and they can learn from you. Engagement is the key to motivating your employees and the best way to do that is to ensure that everyone continues to learn and grow in their roles, whether they are pouring coffee during rush hour or they are saving children in a hospital. Every job matters, so make sure you treat people like their job matters to you.

Photo credit: Motivated employees celebrating from GaudiLab/Shutterstock

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John Packham
Having grown up in a family owned business, and now working as the Content Director for Karrass - a company specializing in negotiation training for businesses - John is grateful for the many opportunities he's had to share his passion for business and writing.

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