3 Keys to Unlocking Employee Motivation Without Rewards or Incentives

Running a business forces team leaders to focus on reaching numerous goals while also responding to market trends and consumer demands. Thus, it’s not always possible (or advisable) for founders to micromanage their employees. Instead, they must find ways to keep employees motivated and on task without constant supervision.

That’s why accountability is such an essential value for startups. Team members must not only be held accountable, but also agree to fulfill their commitments and be open to performance reviews. All employees should understand that everyone is expected to work diligently in pursuit of common overall goals.


Getting Them on Your Side

Founders need to instill in their workers a natural and authentic desire to perform their duties well. Intimidating workers is not the way to do this. In the short run, scaring an employee may get them to complete a task, but it won’t allow them to develop a true, lasting urge to build up the company.

If you have a leadership role, it’s more important that you establish trust with your team. Trusting relationships are more likely to result in self-motivated employees.

To develop these relationships, supervisors should maintain open and productive methods of communication with their teams. Ask your employees questions, and make it clear their input has genuine value.

Employees are more engaged when they realize they have legitimate support within the company. They’ll actually want to do the best possible work they can.


Embodying Values

You can’t expect your team to adhere to certain essential corporate values if you don’t embody them yourself. Have integrity, and admit to your mistakes. You won’t look weak – you’ll look like the kind of leader an employee can trust.

It’s also necessary to make sure your employees understand how they’ll be held accountable. Set clear goals, have regular conversations with the team, and let everyone know how and when you plan to evaluate their overall performance. Don’t wait until an annual performance review to discuss how the team is doing on a given project.


Staying Positive

If your employees fear you, they won’t remain engaged over the long term. The fear of termination, punishment, or embarrassment causes stress that drives away many valuable workers. Even if they remain with the company, they won’t be as focused on their duties as they would be if they felt less intimidated.

Don’t try to frighten your employees into motivation. Focus on the positive instead. Compliment them on their performance, acknowledge their efforts, and reward their successes with recognition.

You can’t always motivate employees with the carrot on a stick method, especially if your company has limited resources. The best way to keep employees engaged is to communicate with them regularly and make sure they know you’re there to support them, not scare them.



Rae Steinbach
Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course.