Motivating employees to perform at their highest capabilities is easy. Simply offer them lucrative stock options, three-day workweeks and generous salaries. On the other hand, if you are like most school districts, your budget is tight and it takes creativity to motivate employees. Motivated employees have an inner drive that causes them to give an extra smile to a child having a difficult day, or to listen to a parent's long-winded (and unfounded) complaint about the bus schedule. Unmotivated employees simply want to get by, doing the minimum amount of work possible. Experts agree that you can’t force someone to be motivated. Supervisors can, however, provide a workplace environment that encourages employees to make decisions, deal positively with co-workers and receive recognition for hard work.
Get involved in their lives
In a 1998 Roper Poll, it was found that nine out of 10 employees will work harder for you if you show an interest in their growth outside of work. This statistic opens up a wealth of ways to motivate employees. Do you have senior citizens working for you? Ask them about their grandchildren. One transportation department had a bulletin board with the caption “Grandparents’ Brag Board.” It was constantly covered with pictures of adorable babies and grandchildren. How about starting a small library featuring books, not on school safety, but on gardening or cooking? If employees enjoy traveling during the summer, invite someone to present a short slide show of their recent trip to a unique destination. Let employees see you recognize them as individuals with specific skills and interests outside of driving a bus. Allan Clark, a trainer with the Bellingham (Wash.) School District, takes pictures of substitute drivers and displays them in the staff room. Each sub fills out a short form listing their favorite food, best book they’ve read and other “personal” information. This form is next to their photo so other drivers know something about the subs beyond, “She drives bus no. 52.”
Recognize their efforts
The University of Kansas psychology department studied other ways to motivate employees. Their results showed that recognition was a factor in developing employees with high work standards. Again, giving recognition doesn’t take a huge budget. One manager gives “psychological paychecks.” When employees receive their paychecks, he attaches a Post-it note on the envelope with a specific positive statement such as, “Helen, thank you for coming in early last week during the heavy snow. I appreciate your help in answering the phones on such a chaotic morning.” Employees take pride in knowing their extra efforts are acknowledged. If a parent writes a positive letter about a driver, enlarge it and post it where other employees can see it. Begin staff meetings with public praise for an employee’s efforts or contributions to the department. Wouldn’t you appreciate being in a meeting that starts with, “Last week, Frank came in as a substitute driver on incredibly short notice. I’d like to thank him by giving him this gift ... a submarine sandwich!”
Give small rewards
Alice Issen, a professor at Cornell University, researched ways to help people work together and be creative in problem solving. Her solution? Candy. She states, “Giving someone a small gift of candy can significantly raise their creative problem solving skills.” So the next time you want to encourage employees ... pass out the chocolate. If you have a small budget for incentives, consider interest-appropriate gifts. As a supervisor, take the time to find out the hobbies and interests of your employees. If you want to thank an employee for extra effort with a coupon for a free espresso, it has little effect if the person doesn’t drink coffee. You’ll have a greater impact by giving a fly fishing magazine to an avid fisherman.
Don’t forget the obvious act of recognizing birthdays or work anniversaries. One department honors birthdays by drawing a large card on the white board in the staff lounge with “Happy Birthday!” and the employee’s name at the top. Throughout the day, other employees sign their names, write birthday greetings or draw comical pictures on the giant card. The completed “card” is one you’ll never find at Hallmark, but it will make the birthday person feel special. Oprah Winfrey has the money to motivate her employees with new cars and trips around the world. School transportation departments need to rely on creativity and a few Tootsie Rolls. The point is the same — let your employees know that you appreciate their efforts and hard work.
Author Silvana Clark is a motivational speaker and author of numerous books and magazine articles. She can be reached at 360/734-9506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.