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Motivate Your Employees by Speaking Their Work Language

As a small-business owner, you demand a lot from your employees. In addition to relying on them to fulfill their regular duties, you delegate extra tasks, ask for their input on new initiatives and may depend on them to train new hires. But even if you have your leadership style down, it's important to remember that you're dealing with individuals — people who respond to different motivations in order to do their best work.

You could compare these motivators to languages. You may have heard of "love languages," but what about "work languages"? If you speak each employee's work language, you can elicit a desired response from them. Here are five common motivators you can use to inspire your people to give their best.

Two collegues meeting with one another in the office.


Praise goes a long way to motivate people. However, it's critical to make praise specific. Saying, "Good job!" doesn't provide feedback about what the employee did well. Instead, "I really liked how you put those reports together — they were very clear and concise," shows your employee you genuinely considered their work and were impressed with the quality. You can also give specific feedback about other characteristics, for example their punctuality or eye for detail. This can inspire them to continue with the behavior.


Expressing gratitude is always important, since it demonstrates to your employees that you value their contributions to the workplace and the business. A simple, "Thank you for your work on this project," can brighten up someone's day. Or, a handwritten note can be incredibly personalized and something employees can refer back to for inspiration. If you really want to make an impression, thank employees publicly, such as in a meeting or in a group email.


If you want to show your appreciation, small gifts can make employees feel really valued. You can give one as a thank you for completing important projects, or when they have something to celebrate such as a birthday, educational achievement or anniversary. If you know your employees well, it's nice to select something that aligns with their interests. If not, a gift card is a great choice - according to The Balance Careers, 29 percent of employees would prefer them over other gifts.

Career Support

Many employees have certain career goals, but don't always share them with their supervisors because they're afraid there might not be enough room for them to grow in a small business. However, helping your employees advance is good for them and your business. The more knowledge and expertise they have, the more they can leverage it to your company's advantage. Have one-on-one conversations to find out what their ultimate career goals are, or what they hope to get out of their current role. Then work with them to determine how to get there through opportunities such as certifications or additional job training. Consider reimbursing study costs and offering promotions when possible.

Utilizing Your Network

As a small business owner, the network you've built is a strong asset to your business — and you might be able to call in a favor once in a while. For example, maybe you can introduce an employee to a mentor, or ask a connection if your employee can job-shadow them for a day.

If you're not sure what motivates your employees most, ask them during your next one-on-one meeting. Or, have them answer a few of the following statements and email them to you:

  • I appreciate when my manager recognizes me by...
  • I like when my manager supports me by...
  • One professional and one personal goal I have for myself this year is...

Learning to speak your employees' work languages can help make you a better leader. It can help boost your employees' confidence, build loyalty and create a more productive work environment.

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