Myths about motivating employees in uncertain times

Mansoor Sarwar, Regional Director at Sage Middle East, explains the challenges that HR teams and company leaders face in motivating their employees in uncertain times such as these.

Mansoor Sarwar, Regional Director at Sage Middle East

At the start of 2020, HR teams and company leaders were looking to refocus their efforts on motivating employees and fostering an engaging, rewarding and productive work environment. However, 2020 has thrown an unexpected curveball in more ways than one.

Challenged in unprecedented ways as they need to remain upbeat, ensure business continuity and also, in some cases, break the news of strategic restructuring to employees, the right strategy has never been more important. In these circumstances, companies have to understand what motivates employees and make sure their approach is empathetic and sincere. Tailoring their approach to engage with employees at all levels can lead to a productive and empowered workplace, no matter what the circumstances. Here are some common productivity myths and how to deliver on what employees truly care about.

Myth #1: Just saying ‘thank you’ is enough to show employees you appreciate their work
Go beyond ‘thank you’ and create a system of rewarding and recognising good work. Whether it’s sending out a quarterly email to employees highlighting great performance or scheduling a monthly review session with management, it’s important to make sure your team feels appreciated and receives regular feedback. Don’t forget the weekly or monthly check-in meetings to share great feedback.

Myth #2: Flexible work schedules and remote work distracts employees and harms productivity
Why shouldn’t employees work from 7 am and finish earlier if they’re more productive in the mornings? Most families across the world have been forced into the situation of distance working and learning to keep everyone safe. Working from home with kids feels unsustainable; hence, being proactive with employees and setting realistic expectations is necessary to prevent misunderstandings down the line. Also consider giving employees the freedom to set their own hours, especially during times when morale is likely to be low.

Myth #3: Wellness is only top-of-mind for employees in January
Health and wellness goals – both mental and physical – are likely to be top-of-mind, particularly during a lockdown and pandemic. HR teams should be prepared to support these initiatives year-round. Webinars reinforcing the importance of physical fitness and exercise and linking these to emotional resilience need to be introduced and conducted two or three times a week.

Employees can also be encouraged to engage in meditation/yoga to remain agile. A weekly session with a clinical psychologist can help keep teams stay motivated and ensure mental peace when working from home. Such initiatives demonstrate that the company values employee health and well-being through an instilled culture. Employees will always recall how the company made them feel through an increased focus on their wellbeing. This is something that employees will cherish and value long after the challenging times have passed.

Myth #4: Motivating employees is a priority when productivity is low
Although companies usually presume that engagement and motivation is low at the start of the year –is that really the case? Times of emotional and physical upheaval, such as a pandemic, is likely to throw a definite spanner in the works when it comes to workplace productivity. So many organisations make assumptions to inform HR and People goals based on gut feel.

Instead, progressive HR and People teams should be using data and People analytics to build actionable insights. In addition to the current exceptional scenario, at what point in the year do you experience the highest turnover? Have you explored data from pulse surveys to understand what impacts engagement, and when? Accessing actionable insights can make the difference between understanding myths and reality.

Ready to become a People Company?
If you’re an organisation that understands the importance of real recognition over office games and gimmicks, give employees the ability to choose when and where they work, prioritise their mental and physical well-being throughout the year, and makes decisions on data rather than gut feel, then you’re well on the way to becoming a truly people-focused organisation.

Pandemics can throw a plethora of challenges in the way of ensuring business continuity and keeping productivity and morale high. The way we work will never be the same. Efficient HR teams will leverage these challenges to come up with solutions that make their organisations even stronger and more secure in the years to come.