In terribly tough times, keeping yourself motivated is no easy job. It's important to remember that motivation is an internal generator that only you can turn on or off.

Are you upbeat? Do you talk positively? Are you encouraging to others? Are you enjoyable to be around? Do you mentor your people through problems they may be having? Is your creative mind on the job or taking a nap? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself on these questions (1 = low; 10 = high)? How would your boss rate you? How about your internal customers? Your colleagues? Your direct reports? Don't forget your supplier partners. Look over the answers and you'll get a good snapshot of how motivated you are and how your co-workers see you. If you feel “down” and score low, psychology tells us that acting as if you're motivated can actually make you feel better and become more motivated.

5 Steps for Staff Motivation

If you're a supervisor, it gets tricky because you can't reach inside your employees' heads and hearts and hold their motivation switch in the “on” position. What you can — and must — do is create the conditions for them to motivate themselves during these tough times.

Here are five suggestions:

  1. Make sure they have things to do that have shorter time frames than usual and can therefore be done reasonably quickly. This gives them a sense of accomplishment.

  2. Recognize them for their efforts by a simple and personal “thank you.” Sometimes people go months, even years, without this tiny bit of recognition.

  3. Generate work that is meaningful to them. Consider asking them which of three tasks they'd enjoy taking on.

  4. Increase their level of responsibility with thoughtful delegation. This is hard to do if you feel as if you have to do everything yourself or else it won't be done right.

  5. Give them some kind of advancement too, say from level C to level B. This can be motivating even if you don't have the budget for a salary increase. In fact, studies show that money isn't even on the list of motivators for most people.

Rest assured that these basic ideas will keep you and your people going even during these difficult times. Why? Because when asked, this is what people say motivates them. You couldn't get any better guidance than that.

Tom McDonald, PhD, president, Dr. Tom McDonald & Associates, Del Mar, Calif., speaks regularly on business success and motivation at management, sales, incentive, and customer marketing events for companies including Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Merck, Pharmacia Corp., Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline. Reach him at, or visit

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