How can you motivate people when there’s no pay rise in sight?

Thanks to the recent interest rate rise – on top of the squeeze already being felt by most people – many managers are wondering how on earth they’re going to keep people motivated when the word goes round that there won’t be a pay rise. Bear in mind that ‘motivating’ isn’t something you can do to people as simply as holding the door open for them. Rather, it’s about creating and sustaining an environment that people find motivating. This is as much about your behaviour as it is about the financial situation. Check out these DOs and DON’Ts.

DON’T cut the Wrong Things. Long ago, my then employer had to make budget cuts and one of the first things they did was banish the weekly bowl of fresh fruit on every floor of the office. They reasoned that the fruit wasn’t always eaten by Friday, and the money (a chunky five-figure sum) would be better used elsewhere. There was no announcement or rationale: the fruit bowls just weren’t there one Monday. Uproar ensued. ‘Fruit Bowl Factor’ became the managerial shorthand for, “It’s really not worth the grief it’ll cause if we do it”.

DON’T join the moaning. By all means empathise and explain you’re affected by the pay freeze too, but keep it short and simple. Don’t descend into the naysayers’ pit of despond. It’s contagious. Your job as a manager is to do as much as you can to keep people motivated and engaged with what they’re doing – and why.

DON’T micromanage. Being micromanaged is demotivating (well, it is for most of us). Just because you’re conscious that the mood in your team is a bit down doesn’t mean you should meddle in everything people are doing. Micromanaging isn’t ‘showing you care’; it shows you don’t trust people. At the other extreme, however…

DON’T ‘throw them in at the deep end’ (or the thoroughly demeaning ‘throw them a bone’, heard in some organisations). If you really want to send a flashing ‘EXIT’ signal to your team, setting someone up for failure without any support, guidance and coaching is a sure way to do it.

DON’T use military analogies and lingo. Whilst people are struggling to pay the rent, in most cases it’s still a desk job after all. People may be struggling, but they’re not being shot at. So drop all that ‘All in the trenches together’, ‘All hands to the pump’ and ‘Man the barricades’ and other analogies. They belong in satire about office life, so are best avoided unless you want to be the butt of others’ jokes. Other slogans and business bull*&%t can be overused: notice the response that ‘Do more with less’ gets from colleagues.

DO ask management what’s going on, being clear you want to know what you can (and can’t) say to employees about the financial situation. Ideally, management will be keeping people informed; if they’re not they need to be made aware of the impact of their inaction. Do quiz management about how long the pay freeze will last, even if the answer is ‘for the foreseeable future’. And do ask if there is a budget for spot bonuses or gifts, for people who’ve really gone the extra mile. Small gestures can go a long way; cinema tickets that show you’ve noticed someone worked last weekend can help.

DO keep people informed about why there’s a pay freeze / no bonus this year / no Christmas party (you’ve got to be kidding me on the last one). Do share as much as you can about the situation, in words and numbers that people can understand. Many employers are facing yet another year of ‘do more with less’. On the other hand, interest rate rises will hurt many people who are already squeezed with student loans and credit card debt to repay.

DO coach and support your people. Tough times are when you really need your people management skills, to continually coach and support valuable talent. Discuss their goals – long- and short-term – and the actions that they can take to reach them. Provide support – by coaching to give them room to think for themselves and giving feedback so they know how they’re progressing. Encourage sharing lessons learned in team meetings and support requests for learning and development. Even if there’s no budget for L&D, they may be able to get a mentor within the organisation or online, or a skill swap with a colleague in another discipline could be feasible.

DO direct people to financial support if they need it. By this I don’t mean set yourself up as an impromptu personal finance guru. My advice is to talk to HR; your employer probably has some kind of employee assistance (EA) service that may include confidential debt counselling and financial advice. Several Zoomly clients now bring in specialist experts on personal finance. Sometimes it can be hard to tell; one of my contacts asked a colleague why he suddenly needed a few days off at the end of the month and was shocked to learn he couldn’t afford his travel and lunches.

DO make contingency plans. For some people the lack of a pay rise or bonus can be the last straw, particularly if they’ve shown great commitment over the past year. If your employer is imposing a pay freeze, chances are that some people will take their talent elsewhere (no matter how small the financial gain). Have back-up plans for short-term gaps, for example temporary freelance help or secondment from another department.

Image credits
No Money Vector – @5432action/DepositPhotos
Helping Business Survive – @VectorStory/DepositPhotos
Bowl Of Fruit – @milo827/DepositPhotos

You may find this blog post useful: ‘10 tips for managing a high performer’

Got a question? Drop Dawn a line on Twitter:

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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