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10 ways startups can keep employees happy and motivated 

Most startups are launched with the aim to become a well-known company, make a difference in the world, and build a good reputation. Yet, the simple truth is that growing a startup into something big and valuable is not an easy process – it takes a lot of hustle, hard work and determination. It takes resilience and the ability to adapt and overcome hard times. The fuel that keeps the startup wheels turning is the motivation and the passion behind the project. Founders are more likely to keep going through the good and the bad. But how do you keep your employees happy and motivated on this rollercoaster journey?

It definitely takes some preparation, but the good news is – it is possible! Let’s explore some things you could start doing tomorrow to make your people happier and motivated to work and achieve things. 

There are three things that make us happy on a basic emotional level: 

  • the feeling of belonging, 
  • being able to make a difference, 
  • recognition for the difference we make. 

So here are our suggestions on how you could build on these foundations:

The feeling of belonging

Building on the team spirit
Creative licence abounds here. We’d recommend starting with weekly or bi-weekly all-employee meetings/calls where you could discuss important news, introduce new people, and where teams could showcase some new features they developed. Another idea is having regular group breakfasts/ lunches. Team buildings are actually one more great way for people to connect if properly planned. 

Regular one-on-one meetings
And we mean not only with an employee’s manager but with their manager’s manager or the founders (depending on the size of your team). Being able to talk about some professional matters, career development, or simply share life stories with someone who is the manager of your manager is very motivating. But you and your top managers have to be ready to listen and talk! 

Company stock
Set up a policy of allocating stock options to employees. Make your people feel that they are in to share your common success. The cliff and vesting period terms will help you make sure there aren’t incentives for someone to wait just to get the stock and leave the party early.  

Being able to make a difference

Support the initiatives and delegate responsibility
Let your people own the processes/projects within your company if they feel that they’d like to. Faster professional growth, personal motivation – probably something you can’t have too much of. 

Being recognized for the difference you make

A clear process for professional growth
Even though sometimes these lines get blurry at startups, when your employee count hits 20, it’s about time you have a clear policy for career growth. It should not be complicated, but it definitely should seem fair to your people and provide them with milestones to achieve. 

Showcasing the results
It often happens that functional teams have limited knowledge of what all the other people at your company do, which sometimes leaves them wondering. So if you have already set up the all-company meetings, your people could use some time for demos. Alternatively, there could be separate knowledge-sharing sessions. 

Praising the achievements
Don’t forget to recognize and praise both individual and team achievements. It does have a multiplication effect.  

Now, to a few additional tips we think you should take note of. It’s not possible to stay happy and motivated and generate new ideas (creative solutions) when you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve and/or are simply burned out. 

Prioritise wellbeing

Take some time to plan and set smart goals
You could experiment with the Google OKR (Objectives and Key Results) approach here, if you haven’t yet. It takes some time and practice, as both no goals and over-ambitious goals could be detrimental to your people’s motivation. Yet, getting from point A to point B it’s much more satisfying if you know what point B is.

Overtime should not be a norm
Sure, there are certain cases where you all really need to work these long hours. Deadlines for your product release, a big deployment scheduled for late hours, or an important pitch to make in two days from now – you all will definitely have to take care of it. But on most business days (let alone weekends), there really is no need for everyone to work late. Being able to rest and recover from one work day to another is essential in keeping yourself and your employees mentally and physically healthy and avoiding burnout. 

Vacations are mandatory

Yes, even for the founders. You need to take your mind off things for a period of time of at least 7 consecutive days (ideally – two weeks) per 6-9 months for your mind to be able to take on a fresh perspective. And, trust us, you will be amazed by what new ideas you will come up with. You and your people.

What else?

You might be wondering where’s the point about financial motivation on this list. And you are not mistaken – it’s simply not there. Not to dive deep into scientific research (but you could if you’d like to), money can only be a valid point of leverage for two causes: 

  • Luring people into your company, initially. 
  • Avoiding losing your best employees only because you pay them half of the average market salary offerings. 

But it’s not really about work motivation, is it? Fortunately (or not?), long-term motivation isn’t something you can buy. 

So, are you ready to try some things from the list? Or maybe you already have. Please, let us know how it is going – we’d love to hear about your experience. 

Liza Povkh
Liza Povkh
With a career in finance, Liza has international experience in both large corporations and startups. Originally from Kyiv, she is now based in Prague. For her, writing and reporting on the startup scene is a hobby and a way to explore the world.

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