Why Small Business Owners Should Know How to Motivate Their Staff

As a business owner, what kind of employee do you want to have?

Let’s play a little game.

Employee “A” goes to work every day with a smile on her face. She has an understanding boss, a flexible work schedule, and receives rewards for exemplary performance. She gets along well with her colleagues and they are all eager to work and serve.

Employee “B “goes to work every day with a frown. She knows that her boss and colleagues will give her a hard time if she doesn’t move quickly enough. She doesn’t get anything, not even a “thank you” from her supervisor. She only goes to work because she needs the money.

Obviously, the first employee is the preferred one. But, as is apparent in the description of both employees, a model employee is not born. Instead, your employees work best when they are placed in ideal working conditions, i.e., when they are treated well and motivated to succeed.

Multinational companies like Starbucks are aware of this. That is why they call their employees “partners”, for one. Little gestures like these can go a long way in empowering employees and making them feel valued. But what exactly is employee motivation? How beneficial is it to keep employees motivated? And are these benefits applicable to small businesses, too?

We will answer these questions in this article.

What is employee motivation?

Employee motivation is characterized by an employee’s level of enthusiasm, energy, creativity, and commitment.

In other words, employee motivation is high when all your employees bring enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication to the workplace every day.

An employee’s feelings of empowerment and alignment with the organization’s goals are key determinants of employee motivation.

Naturally, motivated employees contribute more to the success of an organization. The lack of motivation among employees can cause serious problems such as absenteeism, complacency, and discouragement. It could lead to extremely high employee turnover rates.

Employee motivation vs. engagement vs. satisfaction

Is employee motivation the same as employee engagement or employee satisfaction?

They are similar but they have key differences.

Employee engagement refers to the passion and commitment that a worker pours into a job. This can also be interpreted as how much an employee cares about work and the company. Meanwhile, employee satisfaction involves how happy or content an employee is with work. Factors that affect employee satisfaction include compensation, workload, and management among others.

While some may think that satisfied employees are automatically engaged and motivated, that is not always the case.

An employee who is already satisfied with the status quo would be less interested in putting in extra effort to change anything about the company. In fact, this kind of employee would be more inclined to keep the status quo. Satisfaction also does not say anything about how creative and energetic the employee is.  In this case, it would be easier to deduce what a satisfied employee won’t do: resign.

So, beyond keeping employees content, business owners like you should make sure that employees are passionate and motivated. That way, your employees will do more than keep their jobs. Instead, they will do their jobs better.

How important is employee motivation for small businesses?

As a small business owner, you must have spent a lot of time and money building your company. Your business is likely about something that you are personally interested in, something that you yourself are passionate about. The business itself is probably your pride and joy.

Starting your own business certainly involved a lot of sacrifices, and that is why you are dedicated to keeping the business going. More than that, you are willing to make even more sacrifices to see your business thrive.

But you also know the risks faced by small companies. As a case in point, a lot of small enterprises shut down due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rise of online shopping has arguably helped many local businesses compete with international brands, but this new opportunity comes with its own difficulties.

Nonetheless, your small business will benefit greatly from the support and dedication of your team. Plus, the cost of replacing an employee is often two times higher than that employee’s base salary. So, there is no question about the need for getting your staff to give their best, just like you do.

But there are lots of challenges to employee motivation, some of which are more common among small businesses.

Challenges for small businesses in employee motivation

You probably started your business alone or with a partner. At most, you must have grown your business with a circle of trusted people. But having employees usually means hiring people outside your circle of friends. Additionally, your staff is likely composed of people from different walks of life. Dealing with them will not be as easy as dealing with your one or two business partners.

Delegating important tasks to employees can be tough for most owners. After all, being self-reliant is often one of the most important qualities of a new entrepreneur. But sooner or later, you’ll need to let go of some of your tasks so that you can have more time and resources for other, more important decisions and activities.

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the pandemic has posed new problems for startups. The inability to work in offices or open physical stores is probably the top concern for all businesses. Nonetheless, thanks to technological advances, it is now possible to run a business without a physical office. On top of that, you can let your employees work from home. Better yet, you can even hire people from other parts of the world. Creating an excellent remote team is no easy job, but it is necessary to find people who can support you and your vision.

Hiring the right people and trusting them with major tasks are make-or-break decisions for most small business owners. But these are also important stages in the employee motivation process.

As early as during the hiring process, employees should know what to expect from the company. This includes their job description, the company’s short- and long-term goals, opportunities for career advancement, and other pertinent information. Knowing all of this can help them decide whether to work for the company or not. Plus, being made privy to a startup’s plans can create a sense of belonging and trust.

Later, when candidates are hired and they start working, giving them significant decision-making power and crucial tasks can give them a confidence boost. They will see that you value their ideas and opinions, and that you see them as competent individuals who can make reasonable decisions for the growth of the company.

As the owner of a small business, you usually have no one to entrust with the task of motivating employees except yourself. But here is a recap of the reasons why you should know how to do keep your staff’s morale high:

  • Higher productivity – Motivated employees will put more effort  and energy into their day-to-day tasks. They know that they are valued, so they value the business and its customers in return. As the cliche goes, take care of your employees and they will take care of your business gladly.
  • Lower turnover and absenteeism levels – Motivated employees will have no reason to leave the company or incur unexplained or unwarranted absences. If employees find their work meaningful, they will want to spend more time doing it.
  • Stronger reputation – If employees feel good about their job, they will talk about it with friends and family. They will also be willing to promote the company’s products and services, for example through social media posts. In times of trouble, they will also be willing to debunk or counter negative accusations against the company.
  • Easier recruitment – If you need more employees, you can usually ask your staff for referrals. But if employees are unmotivated, then they have no incentive to refer anyone to the company. On the other hand, motivated staff members will be more than willing to find great people to join the team. After all, they can vouch for the company and they will surely love working with a friend in the same company.
  • More innovation – When an employee feels that the company’s success is his or hers, then he or she will enthusiastically accomplish his or her tasks. Moreover, he or she can also contribute ideas and suggest projects that will elevate the company.

How can small business owners motivate their staff?

Now that you know how crucial it is for you to keep your staff engaged and motivated, here are some employee motivation ideas:

Communicate clearly

Communicating clearly does not stop at informing employees of your vision for the company. It also does not end at giving clear, comprehensive instructions. Go the extra mile by showing your employees that you care about them. Providing coffee and snacks is a good step. Involving your employees in decision making procedures is another.

Beyond that, however, the best way to show employees that you care about them is making sure that your business is afloat and thriving. This benefits all of you. After all, if the business fails, your staff will be out of work. Think of it as a way to ensure that your employees’ hard work doesn’t go to waste.  As an example, hiring the right people to represent your company is a way to motivate the existing employees. This shows that you want the company to benefit from being represented by competent individuals.

Give opportunities for professional growth

Training sessions and workshops may seem tedious for some employees, but this usually happens when they cannot see how these activities will benefit them. Ask your employees about what skills or knowledge they want to gain in relation to their jobs. That way, you can address their needs and interests. Give staff a chance to be promoted or to receive a raise for their performance, too.

Recognize stellar staff

Speaking of giving a raise, it is always important to recognize the employees who go beyond what is expected of them. Give monetary and/or non-monetary incentives to staff who give their best. Having an “Employee of the Month”, a small bonus, or even receiving a heartfelt “thank you” are all valid ways to appreciate a worker’s stellar effort.

In case an employee needs help with accomplishing work properly, learn positive scripting. The last thing you want is to further demotivate an employee who is already struggling with his or her job.


Employee motivation is crucial to a growing business. Specifically, motivating your employees leads to more productivity, lower turnover, better reputation, convenient recruitment, and higher innovation levels.  If you don’t know where to start, you can follow these employee engagement tips:

  • Communicate with staff clearly
  • Give chances for professional development
  • Recognize exemplary performance
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