There are literally thousands of articles on the internet giving advice on how to motivate employees — it’s not exactly the rarest of topics. However, this one is going to be a little different. I’m going to give you a list of five ways to motivate your employees that not only work, they’re also a little off the beaten path.

What’s more, these methods for motivation come from real life experience — they’re all ways the best boss I’ve ever had motivated me and other employees to do incredible work.

Provide Feedback Monthly

I know, I know, I said these methods would be “off the beaten path” and then I immediately jumped in with one of the most recommended ways to motivate employees. You’ll have to forgive me and trust that I’m going somewhere with this.

According to Officevibe, 65 percent of employees want more feedback than they’re currently receiving. They’re looking for opportunities to both learn and do more in their day-to-day work and they’re getting nothing from management. This, my friends, is a one way street to disengagement-ville. If you want to keep your employees motivated and engaged, you have to provide honest feedback regularly and informally. Tell them what you like most about their work and what you want to see improve. If they’re knocking it out of the park, tell them.

Research suggests that the optimum amount of feedback is once a month. And, coincidentally enough, that’s about how often my boss would take me to the nearest coffee shop, buy me a cup, and spend an hour chatting with me about my performance. I looked forward to these conversations because they were where I’d get the most insight into how I was doing and how I could improve — and to me, that was invaluable information.

Give A Personality-career Assessment

I still remember the day my boss asked us all to take a personality test. We laughed and joked about it for a while, failing to see how it could have any positive effect on our work at all. However, that joking came to a complete halt the first time he used the results of these tests to save our bacon.

Someone from upper management decided they wanted to take apart and reassemble our team purely for the sake of change. There was absolutely no data behind this directive, they just wanted to “shake us up.” We were extremely upset and anxious over this decision as we’d all become comfortable in our roles and had hit the sweet spot of productivity.

Our boss gathered the statistics he had aggregated from our personality test results, presented them to upper management, and explained how the large majority of our team thrived best in a stable environment, and that this “change” would negatively affect our efficiency and output. Thanks to his intervention, we were able to stay as we were.

Personality tests can benefit your organization in a number of ways. They help identify the strengths and weaknesses of each employee; reveal who will work well in a team vs. who will work better alone; and open the door for conversations regarding working styles and preferences. Using the results of these tests, you can shape each employee’s role within projects and teams and allow them to work in the way that suits them best.

There are a number of different aptitude tests available online that can help you learn more about your employees. That said, it’s extremely important to remember that these tests are just a baseline (one that can vary with each taking) and should never be used to screen or stereotype employees.

Do Team Building Exercises Every Day

Team building exercises are an amazing way to motivate your employees. These exercises increase morale, build problem solving skills, strengthen communication, form positive relationships, and help employees understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests. They also allow your employees to have fun and unwind. With the pressure of the job being relieved for a while, they return to their work relaxed and better able to focus on the task at hand.

Instead of taking part in a dedicated team building retreat once a year like so many companies do, my boss built these activities into our daily routine. We’d start each morning going around the room answering a question he’d posed, such as “what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten,” or “have you ever met a celebrity?” This guaranteed we started our work day both laughing and learning more about each other.

But that wasn’t the only thing we did as a team. At least once a week we’d gather around the whiteboard to play hangman, answer trivia questions, or learn something new about our industry and our jobs. We’d regularly have competitions going on to guess the due date and weight of office babies. We’d go for team walks to the nearby river. We spontaneously went for ice cream one time.

Thanks to these activities, we became a cohesive unit. And, in what perhaps points most to the benefits of team building exercises, despite the fact that our day-to-day work was done at an individual level, we never hesitated to step off our little islands and help each other when needed.

Get Rid of Toxic Employees

It’s an unfortunate fact of life, but some employees are toxic to the workplace. They destroy morale, breed discontent, lack enthusiasm for their job, and cause others to have to pick up their slack. Even if they’re a top performer, no one wants to work with them because of their attitude. If they’re allowed to keep their job and continue their behavior, others either lose the will to do good work, or they leave the company entirely.

My boss did not tolerate toxic employees. He would always give them chances to correct their behavior, but if he didn’t see improvement, he’d show them the door. It was in this way that he protected the rest of us and kept our work environment happy and healthy.

Ask Your Employees What They Want

During our monthly coffee talks, my boss would always ask me how he could make my job easier. He listened to my feedback (and whining) and always took action or implemented some plan to help me work smarter and produce better results. It was very clear to me that he honestly cared about how I felt.

It was in this, more than anything else, that I found him to be both a fantastic manager and an amazing human being.

If you’re having trouble motivating your employees, the simplest solution to the problem is to just ask them what they need. It really is that easy. As a manager, you have to interact with a wide range of personalities and preferences — a one-size-fits-all management style won’t work. However, by asking each of your employees about how they’d like to be managed, you can figure out what will work best for them, your team, and ultimately, the company as a whole.


Motivating your employees really isn’t as difficult a task as it can seem sometimes. It just takes a measured approach and a willingness to listen. By offering regular feedback, understanding how they work best, doing regular team building exercises, and asking them what they need, you can create a team of engaged employees who are willing to go the extra mile for both you and the company — and in the end, that’s what being a great manager is all about.

By Devin Morrissey

About the author

Devin prides himself on being a jack of all trades; his career trajectory is more a zig zag than an obvious trend, just the way he likes it. He pops up across the Pacific Northwest, though never in one place for long. You can follow him more reliably on Twitter.