6 employee motivation tips borrowed from Google

We all know the importance of happy and engaged employees. They're the lifeblood of my business and have propelled me from a struggling start-up to a growing, profitable company. But motivating employees can be hard - especially when you don't have the capital to compete with large businesses on salary.

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I've discovered that - there's more to employee motivation than money alone. Taking inspiration from other businesses, I realized there are a lot of factors I can influence as business owner - and most cost practically nothing.

No one appears to do it better than search engine giant Google. Their name frequently appears at the top of polls for employee engagement and motivation and, for the 7th year, they've claimed the coveted top spot on the Fortune 100 best companies to work for.

So, I took a closer look at their recipe for staff satisfaction and distilled it into these 6 simple principles, which I then implemented in my own business (and you can too!):

#1 Make it a fun place to work

First and foremost, if you want a happy and productive workforce, you need to make the environment a fun place to be. Google has created a culture centred on their people having fun - in fact, there's even a "Chief Cultural Officer" who is in charge of keeping Google's culture alive and ensuring their ‘Googlers' (employees to you and me) are happy.

One way they do this is to celebrate April Fool's Day - playing practical jokes on one another is all part of the fun and has become an annual tradition.

I take a similar approach, actively encouraging my team to have fun. For Halloween, we decorated the office, dressed up in costumes and carved pumpkins. We then invited friends, families and clients in and did a ‘pumpkin auction' for charity. While it took a little time out of the day, the end result was an engaged and happy team - as well as a chance to show our customers how committed we are not only to them, but the greater community.

#2 Allow employees to pursue their passions

Google abides by an 80/20 rule - asking employees to dedicate 80% of their time to their role, but allowing for 20% of their time to be spent on personal projects they are passionate about. Not only does this satisfy creative minds, it also sparks a huge amount of innovation which has given life to some of Google's most famous services - including Gmail.

Being a smaller company, we've had to be a little more focused, but if employees have a particular passion, a skill they'd like to develop, or a project they would like to get involved in, I look for opportunities to make this happen. By offering the option to contribute to roles that typically lie outside of their day job, I've not only motivated my employees with new challenges, but have also discovered some hidden talents - and new ideas - that have been a real asset to the business.

#3 Have an awesome office space

Google has amazing office spaces. Okay, so you're not going to install a bowling alley like their Californian headquarters or a climbing wall like they have in Colorado, but there are still inexpensive things you can do to make your office space a great place to work.

Here are a few simple changes I made:

  • Painted the walls so the area was light, bright and colorful. It's amazing the difference a bit of paint gave to the feel of the place.
  • Changed the layout of the room by adding an interesting seating space using a few bean bags, some deck chairs and a low-cost couch I found online. I also added a writing wall by painting an area of the wall with 'IdeaPaint' (a paint that enables you to write on the wall and erase without leaving a mark) so we could capture thoughts and ideas during quick catch ups and brainstorming. It feels a lot less corporate, inspires more creativity and encourages my staff to take a break away from their desks and their PCs.
  • Injected a little fun by bringing in a foosball table from home (it had been sitting in the garage, unused) and a plasma TV I'd picked up as a bargain from a superstore sale. Both now sit proudly in our kitchen area and are used by the team when they take a coffee break or during lunch. Neither was expensive, but both had a big impact on morale.

#4 Offer interesting and relevant work perks

Google is famed for their impressive array of work perks for their employees. From onsite childcare and fitness facilities to free gourmet food and extended leave for new parents - it's easy to see why Googlers are pumped to turn up to work each day.

While my small business couldn't match that spending power, I did a little more research and discovered that Google also offers other equally desirable employee benefits with a lower price tag. They provide their employees with access to life insurance so they (and their spouses) have peace of mind should the worst happen. Looking on Glassdoor (a great site I found for researching other companies and the benefits they offer) I found they also offered dental, vision and disability insurance - all benefits I could offer my employees as part of a voluntary benefits package (at no cost to me!).

#5 Give employees time to 'give back'

As with many large companies, Google takes giving back to their community very seriously - matching staff charity donations and giving money towards worthwhile causes that their employees volunteer for.

However, giving back to the community is not just something for big companies - smaller companies can get involved too. I offer my team 2 paid volunteering days per year - 1 for a charity or cause they personally support (which can include anything from a sponsored run to working at a charity store for the day) and 1 for a team event which, last year, involved painting the playground of a local school and building an outdoor play area for the kids. Not only did my employees love it, but it was also a great way to build team relationships.

#6 Empower employees

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Googlers are strongly encouraged to think for themselves and take responsibility for their work. It's this sense of empowerment that enables free thinking, innovation and above all - job satisfaction. Employees know what they need to achieve and are motivated to get the job done - so much so that Google has a flexible working attitude that enables employees to, "take a vacation, volunteer, or flex your workday to meet your personal and business needs—there's no one-size-fits-all recipe for helping you to be at your best."

I also have introduced a flexible working policy. If employees want to work from home, the car, the local coffee shop, that's fine - so long as they are there to meet clients when needed and come into the office for team meetings and catch ups. This also applies to working hours - if they need to come in earlier and leave earlier, that's ok too. Likewise, if they need to pop out and take care of a personal matter during the day, it's no problem for them to take a break and log back in later. They are in control of managing their time and workloads, and really appreciate that fact. And, as the lines between work and home life continue to blur, this will only become more important for businesses across America.