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Our society is all about working hard, achieving, and getting results. As a result, the business environment can be quite cruel towards employees.

As the leader, you’re tempted to just let people work themselves into the ground – it’s their own decision, right?

But you’re the one who sets the culture for your organization. And you know it’s poor reasoning to let your people burn out. So what do you do?

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I was talking with someone today who doesn’t have more money they can give employees – they’re stretched financially. So the question becomes: How can we motivate our employees?

This is a very common trap that people fall into. But if you think about it, you know that money isn’t everything. It’s part of a complex mix of factors which can be different for each individual.

But before we get to that, it’s critical to first answer: Does each employee feel that they’re being paid a fair living wage? For many (most?) hourly workers, the answer can be no. In which case, getting to fair compensation must be your first priority. Without that, you’ll be battling employee turnover until your business ultimately fails.

So now let’s get to those who ARE being paid decently. What motivates them?

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This has been an extraordinarily distracting time for me recently. Family concerns, changes in my business, and other groups … a whole lot going on!

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.
– John Lennon (perhaps)

So my task right now is to enjoy life as it’s happening, and to not try to fight it. Right?

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Last week I contrasted the jobs in a large company to the more collaborative engagement in a startup business. It’s not necessary to be a startup, of course, it’s just easier because that’s where new ideas can take off and flourish.

I had a chance recently to talk with a lady in another country who works for a company which connects global contract workers with part-time roles in larger companies. If you’ve used a remote Virtual Assistant, that’s what I’m talking about.

Sure, that lets you outsource tasks to get cheaper labor. We’ve been doing that for decades. But in this case, there’s a larger driving purpose behind it.

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Last week I talked about poor Valerie. She’s a solid worker, but isn’t bringing much loyalty or passion to her job. It’s just a job.

Across the street, though, we have a small startup company of 8 people who are now getting traction. It’s a small enough group that they know each other fairly well, so their teamwork is pretty darned good.

And they’re not afraid to embrace new ideas. It’s part of their culture, after all.

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Valerie has a pretty decent job. She’s pretty good at it, having been in the position for four years now.

It’s not inspiring, but hey, it’s a job.

So how much creativity and productivity do we think she’s devoting to her work?

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Business can be so stressful and serious. Deadlines. Money. Missed commitments. Disagreements.

So here’s the question: Do you permit yourself to have any fun in the business? I sure hope you have enjoyment in your personal activities and hobbies, but what about when you’re working?

Even if you’re not the boss, you can still do that, you know. But when you ARE the boss, it’s actually part of your job as a leader.

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The absence of job dissatisfaction is not satisfaction, much less engagement.

That was a powerful conclusion from the research of Fredrick Herzberg back in the middle of the last century, and it is certainly true today. It’s a fundamental principle of how we engage employees and others who work for us.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES recently published an article called Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate.

They pointed to a confusing study which seemed to indicate that meditation neither improved or reduced motivation on the job. I’m not sure if it’s solid or not, but to me it exemplified the wrong way of thinking about employee productivity.

And that thinking has been with us since the industrial revolution. We’re merely building on old myths. How so?

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I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but for me this is a great time to avoid doing hard work. It’s cold. I just got back from vacation. Everybody’s out of the office.

Don’t get me wrong – we all need to have some relaxation and downtime.

But we know that most of these reasons are bogus excuses.

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