HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Performance management

7 Ways to Motivate Employees in Uncertain Times

Motivating employees can be especially difficult during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are employees facing more challenges at work due to adjustments to their work environment, schedule, and safety protocols, they may be experiencing more challenges at home as well. Here are a few tips for helping employees through uncertain times.

#1: Show empathy and support.

Recognize that each employee is facing challenges in their own way and that at times they may feel overwhelmed. Let them know you're there to support them, ask how they're doing, and what support they need to do their job. Additionally, identify company and outside resources that they can tap into for support, such as an Employee Assistance Program or wellness resources.

#2: Be positive.

Give employees an honest assessment of current business conditions but stress that you're going to confront them together. Focus on successes your company has had during the crisis and communicate stories about projects or client interactions that went well. Highlight the lessons you've learned and how you're going to leverage that knowledge in the future. Also, communicate with each employee that their work is important.

#3: Offer flexibility.

In response to the pandemic, many employers have adopted or expanded flexible work arrangements, such as telework, staggered shifts, compressed workweeks, and flextime (early arrival or departure). Given the unique circumstances of COVID-19, employers have also had to make telework policies more flexible. For instance, these policies sometimes prohibit employees from taking care of a child or elder during work hours. However, if employees are working from home due to community spread of the virus, children may be home from school with no backup care available. Consider altering deadlines or allowing employees to schedule their work around their child or elder care needs.

#4: Empower employees.

To the extent possible, give employees the autonomy to make decisions about their work and encourage employees to share their knowledge and skills. Ask employees for ideas for tackling projects and challenges and give them the tools and resources they need to do their jobs effectively.

#5: Recognize and reward.

Recognition shows employees that their work is appreciated. During the pandemic it's particularly important to recognize both team and individual performance. For instance, recognition can come in the form of an announcement in company communications, or a note from a supervisor or head of the company. For rewards, consider various monetary and nonmonetary rewards. For example, even if merit-based pay raises or bonuses aren't possible, you could offer additional paid time off, gift cards, and other small monetary rewards. Additionally, consider providing employees a way to recognize their colleagues.

#6: Train and develop.

Provide employees with training and development opportunities to promote retention and commitment. Even if there aren't a lot of opportunities to move upward, you can still help employees develop skills and knowledge that will serve them in the future. Engage employees on a regular basis to determine their training needs and career development interests. Consider internal and external training opportunities, mentoring, job shadowing, special assignments, cross-training, and professional development classes.

#7: Provide a fair, equitable, and inclusive workplace.

Employees are more likely to be motivated if they believe their workplace is fair, equitable, and inclusive. Review your policies and practices to assess diversity, equity, and inclusion at your company. For example, ensure that employees are paid fairly when compared with other employees in your company and verify that your pay practices don't discriminate on the basis of any protected characteristic, such as sex or race. Additionally, take all discrimination complaints seriously and launch a prompt, fair, and thorough investigation. If an investigation reveals that a violation of your policies occurred, take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Address problems before they become severe or pervasive and administer your disciplinary action policy on a consistent basis regardless of who is involved.


Understand what motivates your employees and develop programs accordingly. Investing in your current employees can ultimately help your bottom line while creating a positive, productive work environment.

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