Driving Motivation and Engagement in the Lab
Employee engagement is a hot topic among business leaders across all industries. And for good reason: high engagement translates into positive business results. Engaged employees work overtime, putting in discretionary effort to drive their company’s mission. But before employees can be engaged, they need to be motivated.
It’s critical for leaders to understand the distinction between engagement and motivation. Engaged employees are always motivated, but motivated employees aren’t always engaged. Engagement is based on intrinsic motivation; unmotivated employees lack that intrinsic drive, and so external motivating factors need to be considered.
For lab employees to become motivated and stay that way, there are a few best practices to keep in mind.
1. Ask the lab employees what they need.
Not every employee will be forthcoming about their needs, whether it’s how they prefer to communicate or what kind of space they do their best work in. Establishing an open line of communication between lab managers and direct reports will allow leadership to better understand the motivating needs of individuals across the lab.
Employee experience survey tools, team meetings, or one-on-one meetings are all opportunities to learn about employees’ preferences at the lab, team, and individual levels. It’s important to ask questions about all aspects of the employee experience. For example:
- Do you receive adequate communication from your manager?
- Are you excited about the work you do?
- Does the current laboratory design accommodate your needs?
- Are you recognized for the work you do?
At the organizational level, employees overall may be motivated by hearing more from leadership or having access to collaborative work spaces. Different teams may be motivated differently, too. One team may be motivated by friendly cross-departmental competitions, while another may prefer to stay task-oriented in an environment with minimal distractions. At the individual level, some lab employees may thrive under lots of oversight and structure, and others may seek the freedom to be creative.
No matter how the data is gathered, it’s important that lab leadership take action on what they learn from their employees. If employees would rather communicate electronically than sit through endless meetings, consider investing in chat software. If they express the current lab space isn’t conducive to delivering their best work, explore design options to better accommodate their needs.
When lab employees are asked about their needs, but then those needs aren’t accommodated, that becomes a force for demotivation. When their needs are met after they’ve explicitly outlined them, employees will feel valued and, in turn, be even more motivated.
2. Give lab employees autonomy and control over their own development.
Not every lab employee wants to follow the same path. Giving each employee control of their own career path will allow them to seek out personal and professional development opportunities that will not only serve them in their current roles, but in future roles, too. Encourage lab employees to learn about themselves and to figure out what motivates them individually, allowing them to pursue projects or initiatives that align with their individual goals.
Exercises in professional development can help create employee self-awareness. Allow employees to set steady goals and monitor their progress, holding them accountable along the way. The more self-aware employees are, the more focused their development activities will be. And as they continue to develop in a way that benefits themselves and the lab overall, their confidence will build.
When employees are confident, they’re motivated to keep going. That motivation will create business results, and that success will create more external motivation for employees to continue to develop. It’s a positive cycle benefiting the lab and each employee individually.
3. Validate lab employees’ efforts.
Nothing kills motivation like apathy. All employees want to be recognized for their hard work, but how they want to be recognized will vary based on the individual.
Lab managers can easily talk to their direct reports about how they like to be recognized and how often. Some employees will be motivated by public words of affirmation, others may shy away from individual recognition and prefer to share it with their project team. An employee who enjoys public recognition will likely be motivated by a bravo during a department meeting, while an employee who prefers to be behind the scenes may be more motivated by a quick email or a five-dollar gift card to their favorite coffee shop.
When employees feel validated, they’re more likely to continue to be high-performing. And recognition doesn’t have to be just for daily assigned tasks or long-term projects. Managers can also recognize employees for hitting milestones in their personal or professional development plans.
Motivation is different for each individual.
As tempting as it would be to think of solving for motivation in a one-size-fits-all way, it’s important to remember that each lab employee is an individual person with unique needs. Keeping lab employees consistently motivated means understanding those unique needs and providing them with the tools and opportunities they require to meet them. Once those needs are met, employees are more likely to become engaged and drive the company mission—and results—forward.