How to Keep Employees Motivated (When Things Go Wrong)

PointofSale Employees high fiving each other How to keep employees motivated


Motivating employees takes work, but it’s not impossible. Many human resource professionals, business managers, and small business owners feel that recognition isn’t necessarily part of the job description. They assume employees should show up to work motivated and ready to attack each day head-on.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like this. Employees need motivation, and they want to be recognized for a job well done — it’s human nature. It becomes especially important to understand how to keep employees motivated when things go wrong — because things will go wrong.

Whether it’s a small crisis like running out of a moderately popular inventory item or something on a larger scale like a scandal, it’s essential to keep employees motivated in these less than perfect times.

Maintain a Positive Work Environment

One of the key factors to creating a sense of calm for employees is something bigger than you. Maintaining a positive work environment and having that level of consistency will help keep employees motivated during imperfect times.

When compared to material benefits like paid time off (PTO), employees prefer a positive work culture and workplace well being, above anything else. This sentiment speaks volumes about what motivates employees to show up and give 100 percent day in and day out.

Creating a positive work environment starts with life’s general golden rule — treat others how you want to be treated. From an employer/employee relationship, you can start with the following:

  • Encourage positive thinking
  • Show gratitude
  • Motivate others and be a mentor
  • Celebrate wins and victories as a team
  • Engage in weekly meetings to keep everyone on the same page
  • Ask employees to participate in surveys or get their opinion when it comes to certain business decisions
  • Random acts of kindness go a long way

Stay Calm

Staying calm is, above all, one of the most important strategies. Great leaders understand that the response to a situation is just as critical as the matter at hand. Keeping your cool in trying times is the best example you can set. It’s also a great motivator. People typically don’t scurry to get things done for an overbearing loudmouth, nor does it put them at ease.

Getting frazzled and throwing a fit only makes you look weak. Portraying a calm strength lets team members know that you’re in charge and they’re in good hands. Also, it sets a good example and gives staff a reason to want to help. When things get rough, the last thing you want to do is hit the panic button.

Additionally, have a crisis management plan that outlines possible what-can-go-wrong scenarios and the course of action to correct them. While you can’t possibly predict everything, nor will events always go as scripted, at least you have a baseline to adapt as needed.

See Also: For Retailers: How to Inspire Your Staff During the Busy Season

Give Them A Roadmap

Just like your business needs a plan, so do your employees. Most employees want to advance in their career, and feeling like they are stuck in a dead-end job will suck the motivation right out of them. Set a clear path for advancement and let them know what it is.

Finding out what your employees’ interests are will help you define a roadmap for their future. Do you consistently catch a certain staff member always checking their social media accounts? Although this is unacceptable on-the-clock behavior, maybe they’re a social media wizard, and you can leverage this prowess.

Turn a wrong into a right and let them help manage your business’ social media accounts. At first, you can start small by allowing them to make a few weekly posts. If that goes well, over time, you can increase their day-to-day responsibility to include responding to comments, direct messages, and setting up social ads.

Shoot for growth and expect your employees to grow, too. Let them know that promotions are possible if they perform well — then reward them when they do.

PointofSale Employees working in kitchen How to keep employees motivated

Personalize Workloads

Personalizing workloads does not mean catering to each employee but instead taking the time to find out what makes each one tick. The fact that all employees will be different is a virtual guarantee. Some may be re-entering the workforce or nearing retirement, while others are still waiting to land their first job.

Don’t forget; there is no better way to slow down a team than to force a one-size-fits-all approach. Ensure that each workload matches the employee’s strengths, but also tries to challenge their weaknesses to help them grow.

Set aside thirty minutes periodically to sit down with each employee, one on one; it’s the best way to learn about someone. This small effort will not only keep employees motivated but pay dividends on their future performance. In fact, research from the University of California found that motivated employees are 31 percent more productive and have 37 percent higher sales than their unmotivated counterparts.

Embrace Autonomy

Let employees feel a sense of ownership. While guidance is great, nobody enjoys being micromanaged. You shouldn’t need to hold an employee’s hand through every task. Allow the team to embrace autonomy until they give you a reason not to. Most individuals will ask for help when they need it. If you’re unsure they will, enforce this as one of the conditions of autonomy – when in doubt, ask.

Promoting autonomy demonstrates trust. It helps forge a stronger bond with your staff. Most of the time, they will go out of their way not to abuse that trust. Try focusing on results rather than rules. You’ll be surprised how much your team gets done.

Final Thoughts

When things go wrong, it’s easy to fall into the negativity trap. You can’t afford for your employees to get sucked into this black hole. That’s why you have to stay calm, give guidance, open the lines of communication, and learn how to keep employees motivated. As a great manager or business owner, you can overcome any adversity. Lead your team well, and they’ll give you everything you need in return.

About the Author

Nicole Sabo

As part of the Editorial team at, Nicole Sabo brings together relevant content and resources to create a powerful informational platform for site visitors. Nicole graduated Cum Laude from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania in 2015 with a B.S.B.A. in Marketing and Management and has experience in the retail and hospitality industries.