It goes without saying that the past few months have been some of the most professionally challenging of our lifetimes. It is hard to feel as engaged, as excited and as motivated from your living room in your slippers as it is within the often high energy, collaborative office environments. HR Teams are dealing with so many different and difficult issues within their organisations as staff come to terms with this new way of working.
So many of us are having to manage home schooling, busy households and a removal of the social interaction that can often make our jobs so worthwhile. Alongside of this, we are also feeling so guilty that we’re not getting as much done, that we’re not as productive, perhaps we are also worried about our identities even thinking things like “I used to be so productive!”.
If this sounds familiar, welcome to being human! Know, first and foremost, that you are not alone. You are not failing. You are not dropping the ball. You are not taking your employment or finance for granted. You are spinning thousands of plates, low key anxiety and honestly, doing a bloody brilliant job.
Rewarding HR Teams (it’s not about the money)
Research has shown that motivation is closely linked to reward. MRi scans have shown that humans are more likely to be motivated by intrinsic rewards, such as collaboration and fun, than extrinsic rewards, such as money. We know that not having novel physical and social stimuli can dampen our ability to create and studies have shown that being bored in our leisure time has a negative effect on our motivation. When we consider these factors, it makes total sense that we are struggling and in fact, it would be weird if we weren’t.
So as HR teams professionals, managers and leaders, how can you help those around you feel motivated, engaged and uplifted?
Acknowledge the reality
The most important consideration when it comes to motivating teams and those around you is to acknowledge the difficult reality of the situation. A nice analogy for this is thinking of our negative emotions as like inflated beach balls; if we constantly push these down, holding them under the water, making sure they don’t come up one of two things happens, we get even more exhausted or, the ball explodes up in a bigger way than if we just let it float to the surface. It is crucial, then, that we set the tone for a corporate conversation about negative emotions. Reassuring HR team members that it’s OK to have off days, that it’s OK to operate at a little less productively than before alleviates pressure and stress, which goes a long way to creating space for people to stay productive.
It is also worth noting that HR teams respond positively to senior members of staff sharing their vulnerabilities. Where possible, facilitate cultures of normalising negative emotions from the top down, through sharing challenges and difficulties across all levels within a business.
This can be as simple as creating groups and spaces where people share exactly how they are feeling, ideally with the example of a senior leader, to create a culture of honesty and transparency.
Encourage a daily diet of positivity
The expression “daily diet” of positivity comes from Barbara Frederickson’s research which shows that people who prioritise small actions, which naturally bring about positive emotions, are happier overall.
“People should cultivate positive emotions in their own lives and in the lives of those around them, not just because doing so makes them feel good in the moment, but also because doing so transforms people for the better and sets them on paths toward flourishing and healthy longevity. When positive emotions are in short supply, people get stuck. They lose their degrees of behavioural freedom and become painfully predictable. But when positive emotions are in ample supply, people take off. They become generative, creative, resilient, ripe with possibility and beautifully complex.”
This is not encouraging HR teams to “feel happy” but more accurately empowering teams to make time for things that bring about positive emotions, in small ways, multiple times a day.
Too often we focus on happiness, positivity or motivation as the outcome, rather than the actions we can take to facilitate. This distinction is subtle but important. Research has shown that those who try to “be happy” are less likely to attain it, so we are not encouraging our teams to simply “be happy” but more to understand what actions they can take to facilitate overall feelings of motivation and positivity.
Doing this is perhaps the most effective way to engage teams now and in the future and it surprises me how few businesses do it. This is not a wide company initiative of offering incentives or Zoom parties, this is simply asking people “What are the small things you can do each day to make you feel more positive? How can we as a company help you do those things?”.
Change your idea of productivity
When we’re trying to motivate HR teams, we’re essentially trying to engage them in order to stay productive. We have businesses to sustain, after all. Though now, and any time in the future, we need to completely reconsider what we think “productivity” to be. When we think of someone as engaged, motivated and productive, we often focus on their output and the work that they are doing, though this is only a small part of a much, much bigger whole.
Taking time out to go for a walk, play with the kids, have a nap, do some exercise, whatever it is, these are not things that get in the way of our being productive, they are in fact they only way we can maintain it.
Facilitating this culture is essential to motivate and engage teams long term in a meaningful and sustainable way. It is also so much easier, cheaper and more effective than extrinsic rewards like parties or bonuses that we have historically focused on.
Give people the autonomy, space and trust to live their lives and you will see performance soar. A nice way to create this inclusive environment is creating a company wide “menu” of actions people can take when stressed. Collate feedback on what helps people and add things like “10 minute meditation, yoga, go for a walk”. Link to free and readily available resources on these topics. In creating this company “menu” you are expressly giving permission for people to put their care first and foremost.
We cannot perform as effectively when we are overwhelmed, burnt out and stressed so a simple initiative like this can be a hugely simple and effective way to engage, motivate and uplift teams.
Another way to motivate teams is to help them reframe their perspective on a situation. A commonly used coaching technique, these are powerful questions we can ask of ourselves, or others, when we are engaging in thinking patterns, feelings and emotions that don’t necessarily serve us.
- What is my current framing (of the situation/person)?
- Which emotional effects does this create in me?
- Does it make me more resourceful? or is that helping me get closer to my goal?
- If I continue to give life to this framing, where will that take me? Which reality will i create? Do I want that scenario to become my reality?
When we ask these questions we broaden people’s cognitive perspectives and allow us to define other options, other ways of thinking. This short exercise alone can be incredibly powerful to get people back on track.
In conclusion, the real route to engaging and motivating teams is through openness, transparency and bringing a real sense of what it means to be a human working during turbulent times into the way the company operates. It is less about big initiatives and more about open communication and real life discourse.
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