Three Tips for Motivating Challenging Team Members as a Leader


One of the most common concerns that I hear from leaders is that working with difficult people consumes both time and energy and risks the team’s success. The struggle to motivate and inspire your team can seem overwhelming when you’re not aware of individual motivators or dealing with people who are not on board with organizational processes.

Failing to work well with people in your work environment comes with a double-sided toll.

On an organizational level, difficult workplace relationships lead to decreased engagement and productivity to the point of endangering the company’s performance and success.

Also, strained relationships at work can contribute to stress, anxiety, and a negative work environment. Additionally, it may impact your career growth and job satisfaction.

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Why is Employee Motivation Important?

Employee motivation holds important significance across various dimensions: leadership, personal, and organizational.

From a leadership standpoint, motivated employees are the building blocks for effective leadership. Their enhanced productivity not only contributes to the success of the team but also creates a positive work culture. Leaders need to inspire and motivate to foster team collaboration, creativity, and a sense of shared purpose.

On a personal level, employee motivation plays a pivotal role in job satisfaction and overall well-being. Motivated employees often find greater fulfillment and happiness in their professional roles, leading to increased job satisfaction. Additionally, motivation is a driving force for personal growth, encouraging each team member to seek challenges, pursue professional development, and actively engage in their career paths.

From an organizational perspective, employee motivation contributes to increased retention rates and reduced turnover rates. Motivated teams are more likely to be innovative and adaptable, which is crucial for an organization’s success. Moreover, a workforce that is motivated contributes to a positive organizational reputation, attracting top talent and building strong relationships with clients and stakeholders.

In essence, employee motivation is what connects effective leadership, individual satisfaction, and overall organizational success. It impacts the culture, creativity, and resilience of the entire organization.

10 Ways to Motivate Employees or Team Members

Implementing strategies to boost employee motivation is essential for a thriving workplace. Recognizing personal motivators and building teamwork through positive feedback and clear goals create an environment where employees feel valued and motivated. Effective leadership skills and a focus on individual development contribute to a healthy work culture.

Addressing performance challenges and providing opportunities for training ensure continuous employee improvement.

Ultimately, strategic efforts in motivation lead to increased productivity, employee satisfaction, and organizational success. This is also really important when navigating a change process.

Here are 10 strategies you can use to motivate your team:

  1. Set Clear Goals
  2. Communicate Clearly and Transparently
  3. Encourage Teamwork
  4. Give Them Autonomy
  5. Offer Rewards and Recognition
  6. Employee Training & Development
  7. Celebrate Important Moments
  8. Offer Positive Feedback
  9. Get Feedback from Employees
  10. Help Them Achieve Work-Life

Set Clear Goals

Setting clear goals is a fundamental element of keeping your team motivated. It provides a roadmap towards achieving desired outcomes.

When employees have a clear understanding of their goals, they feel more engaged, focused, and driven to achieve their targets. This, in turn, leads to a multitude of benefits such as better employee performance, a healthy work environment, and greater output.

Clear goals provide employees with a sense of direction and purpose. They know what they are working towards and why their efforts are significant. This clarity eliminates confusion and uncertainty, allowing employees to align their actions with the broader organizational objectives. It also creates a sense of ownership and accountability, as employees feel responsible for contributing to the collective success of the team or company.

Also, clear goals enable employees to prioritize tasks effectively. Employees feel motivated to identify the most critical activities that directly impact their goals, and focus their energy on those. This prioritization helps them avoid distractions, ensuring that their time and effort are invested in the most meaningful endeavors.

Another key benefit of clear goals is the ability to track progress and mitigate poor performance. Employees can regularly assess their progress toward their goals, providing them with tangible evidence of their accomplishments. This feedback loop is highly motivating, reinforcing their efforts and fueling their determination to continue striving towards their objectives.

The absence of clear goals can have detrimental consequences for employee motivation. When employees are unclear about their roles, expectations, and desired outcomes, they may feel disengaged and lose sight of their purpose. This can lead to procrastination, inefficiency, job dissatisfaction, and a lack of accountability. Without a clear direction, employees may struggle to prioritize tasks, leading to a decline in productivity and overall performance.

Communicate Clearly and Transparently

Clear and transparent communication is what keeps a team motivated and engaged. It’s not just about sharing information; it’s about creating a culture of open dialogue where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas.

Open communication generates trust and encourages problem-solving. When employees are safe to share their opinions there’s room for innovation, new ideas, creativity, and out-of-the-box solutions.

When employees feel informed, valued, and connected, they are more likely to take ownership of their work, contribute to the company’s success, and achieve their full potential.

Encourage Teamwork

Encouraging teamwork is pivotal for employee motivation as it cultivates a shared sense of purpose, mutual support, and recognition. Collaborating towards common goals provides a collective achievement that motivates individuals to contribute their best efforts. Teamwork also is great for boosting skills through sharing knowledge.

Teamwork also fosters problem-solving and innovation, while effective communication builds trust and reduces stress.

Provide Autonomy

Granting employees autonomy and refraining from micromanagement is important for boosting motivation and overall job satisfaction. Autonomy empowers individuals to take ownership of their work and creates a sense of responsibility and trust.

When employees have the freedom to make decisions within their roles, it enhances their job satisfaction and stimulates creativity and innovation.

Micromanagement, on the contrary, stifles initiative, erodes confidence, and diminishes motivation. Providing autonomy signals a belief in employees’ capabilities, encouraging them to excel and contribute meaningfully to the organization. This approach not only enhances individual motivation but also creates a positive work culture.

Offer Rewards and Recognition

Offering rewards and recognition plays a pivotal role in keeping employees motivated.

One of the important aspects of recognition is offering positive feedback or praise in a prompt manner. This is also known as informal recognition. Take the time to check in with team members and create a habit of recognizing their progress and work. This makes people feel appreciated beyond a compulsory company program.

The immediate and prompt necessity of giving verbal praise for accomplishments, rather than waiting for performance reviews or yearly bonuses, is crucial.

Real-time acknowledgment reinforces positive behaviors, boosting morale and job satisfaction. It cultivates a culture of continuous appreciation, enhancing employee engagement and loyalty.

The combination of tangible rewards and a supportive workspace is essential for motivation, performance, and employee loyalty, which contributes significantly to overall organizational success.

Employee Training & Development

Continuous employee growth is paramount for motivation and engagement.

Focusing on individual personal and career objectives ensures that employees not only become better in their current roles but also contribute more effectively to organizational success.

Providing opportunities for skill development and advancement not only boosts morale but also aligns employees’ aspirations with the company’s goals. This commitment to their professional growth fosters a sense of purpose and fulfillment, making them more invested in their work. In turn, the organization benefits from a skilled and motivated workforce, creating a positive cycle of growth, achievement, and shared success.

Celebrate Important Moments

Celebrating important moments is crucial for motivating employees and is closely connected to giving recognition.

Recognizing milestones, achievements, and significant moments in employees’ professional journeys reinforces their value and contributions.

Celebration serves as a powerful form of acknowledgment, boosting motivation, and keeping a positive work culture. It not only validates individual efforts but also promotes a sense of collective achievement and collaboration within the team.

Creating a habit of pausing and giving recognition for important milestones makes people feel seen, valued, and motivated to continue their dedicated efforts.

Offer Positive Feedback

Offering positive provides clear guidance in the work environment. When employees receive positive feedback, they gain a clear understanding of what they are doing well. This clarity not only boosts confidence but also provides a roadmap for continued success. Positive feedback serves as a motivational tool, highlighting the strengths and contributions of individuals, and making them feel valued and recognized.

Moreover, positive feedback is vital for maintaining motivation because it balances constructive criticism. While pointing out areas for improvement is crucial for growth, positive feedback complements this by reinforcing what is going right. This balance ensures that employees feel supported and appreciated rather than constantly criticized. It contributes to a positive culture of continuous improvement.

Get Feedback from Employees

Getting feedback from employees is crucial for employee motivation as it empowers them, gives a sense of ownership, and enhances overall job satisfaction.

When employees have a platform to share their thoughts, opinions, and concerns, it demonstrates that their voices are valued. This sense of being heard creates a positive work environment, boosting morale and motivation.

Additionally, feedback serves as a valuable tool for continuous improvement. It provides insights into what is working well and areas that may need attention. This collaborative approach not only motivates employees by involving them in the decision-making process but also contributes to a culture of innovation and growth.

Furthermore, getting feedback signals a commitment to employee development. It shows that the organization is invested in understanding and meeting the needs of its workforce. This understanding leads to tailored approaches that align with individual motivations, ultimately contributing to a more engaged and motivated team.

Help Them Achieve Work-Life Balance

Having a good balance between work and life is essential for anyone.

This is not only crucial for keeping employees motivated but also helps with preventing work-related stress and burnout.

Prioritizing work-life balance acknowledges the importance of personal well-being and makes employees feel supported in their organization.
To help employees achieve work-life balance, companies can implement flexible scheduling, promote clear communication about workload expectations, and set realistic task goals.

Encouraging breaks and downtime, providing employee assistance programs, and offering training on time management are vital components.

Leading by example, recognizing and rewarding achievements, and advocating for boundaries between work and personal life contribute to a supportive culture where team members can reach their full potential.

How to Motivate Team Members or Employees Working Remotely or Hybrid

Motivating team members or employees working remotely or hybrid can be a challenge, but it’s definitely achievable with the right strategies. The methods listed above are still valid to motivate remote workers, but here are some specific methods to motivate remote or hybrid employees:

  1. Create a Sense of Belonging: Create a strong sense of community and belonging among remote team members. Encourage interaction, virtual team-building activities, and regular communication to foster collaboration.
  2. Empower Autonomy and Flexibility: Give remote team members the freedom to manage their time and work schedules within reasonable parameters. This promotes a sense of ownership and allows them to adjust their work routine to fit their personal needs.
  3. Provide Communication Tools: Equip your team with the necessary communication tools, such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management software. This ensures seamless collaboration and timely information exchange.
  4. Regular Check-ins and Feedback: Schedule regular check-ins with remote team members to discuss progress, address concerns, and provide feedback. Constructive feedback helps them identify their strengths, improve performance, and feel valued.
  5. Recognize Achievements and Celebrate Successes: Acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of individual team members and the team as a whole. Publicly recognize their contributions to boost morale and motivate them to continue excelling.
  6. Invest in Well-Being and Work-Life Balance: Encourage healthy work habits and promote work-life balance among remote team members. Provide resources for mental health, and physical activity, for maintaining a healthy home workspace.
  7. Respect Boundaries and Personal Time: Respect the personal boundaries and time commitments of remote team members. Avoid excessive communication outside of regular work hours and allow them to disconnect for rest and relaxation.
  8. Provide Continuous Training and Development: Invest in the professional development of remote team members. Offer regular training opportunities, access to online courses, and mentorship programs to keep them engaged and motivated.

How to Spot Employees that Need Motivation

Spotting employees who may need motivation requires a proactive approach. As mentioned above, regular check-ins with the members about their progress and current projects can be a good indicator to find out how they are feeling and managing their workload.

Look out for signs such as decreased productivity, lack of enthusiasm, or increased absenteeism. Engage in regular one-on-one conversations to understand the reasons behind these challenges. They might be dealing with burnout, stress or just have too many things on their plate.

Remain observant and engage in open communication to identify employees who may need additional support or motivation tailored to their specific needs.

How Workplace Stress Affects Employees

When Stanford researchers looked into how workplace stress affects health costs in the US market, they found that it led to spending of nearly $190 billion — roughly 8% of national healthcare outlays — and nearly 120,000 deaths each year. The American Psychological Association (APA) has recently found that in high-pressure firms, healthcare costs are 50% greater than at other organizations. Workplace stress is estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $500 billion dollars, and each year, 550 million workdays are lost due to stress on the job.

Looking at the hazards of failing to work collaboratively with all team members, and in particular, with those who experience challenges, it is clear that this should become a priority in terms of tools and strategies that need to become available for leaders.

Motivating Challenging Employees

You might encounter team members who don’t seem on board with the new changes or are experiencing different challenges regarding work. It’s important to understand why it’s happening in order to support them and help them succeed.

Motivating challenging employees requires a nuanced approach, rooted in understanding the reasons behind their behavior. It’s crucial to recognize that challenges may stem from various factors, such as personal issues, lack of clarity, or mismatched skills. By understanding these reasons, leaders can tailor strategies to address specific needs, fostering a more supportive and productive work environment.

A critical step is addressing challenges rather than dismissing them, which is key to unlocking untapped potential and promoting a positive workplace culture. It’s a proactive investment in both individual growth and the overall success of the team.

How to Keep Team Members Motivated

Keeping employees motivated, particularly those facing challenges or presenting challenges, is crucial.

By understanding and addressing the specific challenges employees face, leaders can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

This not only enhances job satisfaction but also fosters a culture of empathy and collaboration. Recognizing and addressing challenges demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being, contributing to higher levels of engagement and loyalty.

By looking beyond surface behaviors and investing in tailored motivational strategies, organizations can unlock the true potential of their teams.

Tip #1: Ask Simple Questions on a Weekly Basis

One of the most common mistakes that leaders make is assuming. When leaders assume that everything is OK they’re likely to discover a multitude of problems later. These problems usually are in a progressive state and harm employee’s motivation.

Is important to figure out the relationships with challenging employees because they are an extreme version of what more ‘subtle’ and ‘reasonable’ employees feel. Here is a simple weekly survey you can use to gain information on an ongoing basis:

  • Describe your work experience this week in one word.

This allows focus and clarity on workplace experience and opens the door for team members to express what is on their minds so that it can be addressed immediately.

  • Describe a good day of work you had this week in one or two sentences.

This gives clarity to both you and team members on what works- so that it can be highlighted and enhanced.

  • List three things that motivated you to do your work every day this week.

I am a big fan of asking directly. Why guess what motivates employees when you can actually ask them directly?

  • What is one thing that I could do to make you more productive?

This has to be just one thing. It will give you immediate feedback on how you can support your team members and what you can do on your end to keep them motivated and engaged.

Tip #2: Focus on the Three Types of Clarity (PRT):

Clarity of Purpose

Clarity of purpose is the wind in your sails. The human mind has an innate need to know the ‘why’ behind what you’re doing in order to be motivated. One of my favorite scenes about it is from Alice in Wonderland: “Cat: Where are you going? Alice: Which way should I go? Cat: That depends on where you are going. Alice: I don’t know. Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

It is your Responsibility

It is your responsibility as a leader to define to the team where they are going and why they are going there.

Oftentimes I find that leaders themselves are not clear on communicating the purposes of their actions, as directions and changes come down the chain of command.

It’s important to clarify the ‘why’ to yourself first as a leader, and once it is clear to you- go ahead and clarify the ‘why’ to your team members. Your team needs to know at all times where they are going and why.

When there’s an overlap of responsibilities disfunctional teams become apparent. This can be easily avoided if leaders take the time to be crystal clear (a simple written document is best) on the exact scope of team members’ responsibilities.

If there is overlap (and there usually is), make sure to define how the overlap works: what prevails? What happens if? Lack of clarity is your worst enemy as a leader when it comes to team members’ areas of responsibility.

Clarity of Tasks:

I often hear from team members that they are not clear on what exactly they are being asked to do. It is a leader’s responsibility to focus on assisting teams in performing the tasks by breaking them down and defining them as clearly as possible.

Leaders need to develop the skills for clear communication and provide access to feedback on clarification.

Tip #3: Provide Immediate Verbal Rewards

According to a recent study by Cornell researchers published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who received immediate, frequent rewards for completing small tasks reported more interest and more enjoyment in their work, compared with people who received delayed rewards only given out at the end of a long project. Positive verbal reinforcement is a tool that leaders can use to increase the motivation of team members. It costs leaders no more than their focus and it has an incredible impact, in particular on people who have a hard time and struggle to stay motivated. The two underlying main purposes of workplace positive reinforcement are:

  1. To acknowledge the desired behavior.
  2. To encourage the desired behavior.

Here is the GASP Model for providing positive verbal feedback:

Genuine- Give verbal praise only when you truly mean it or your tone or body language will disclose what you really think. The key here is ‘genuine’. If you’re not used to giving

Attentive- An opportunity for praise is a communication opportunity, and communication is always a two-way street. Be present and attentive for any information or cues, verbal and nonverbal.

Specific- Verbal praise should always be as specific as possible- what exactly did you notice and why exactly was that important/commendable? The more specific, the more impactful it is.

Prompt- Do not wait for the next quarterly meeting. Be prompt. Every day is an opportunity to recognize effort as a leader. Did you see something good? Command it promptly.

Keeping Employees Motivated Through Change

Change can bring stress and uncertainty among some team members and it’s important to keep them motivated throughout the change process.

Motivated employees are more likely to embrace and actively participate in the changes, contributing to a smoother transition.

How to Motivate Yourself

Whether you’re navigating career challenges, pursuing personal goals, or simply seeking a boost in your daily life, understanding how to motivate yourself is a must-have skill.

Find out how to boost your motivation in this article.

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Dr. Michelle Rozen

Dr. Michelle Rozen, Ph.D., is a highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is one of the most booked motivational speakers nationwide as well as internationally, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN on topics related to dealing with change in our world and in every aspect of our lives, so that we can do better and feel better.

Her most recent book, 2 Second Decisions helps people power through with their most challenging decisions through turbulent times.

Dr. Michelle Rozen consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area.

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