How to Increase Employee Motivation: Lessons From ‘The Office’

Do you remember that episode of “The Office” where Robert California tells Andy Bernard that he, as manager, needs to do whatever is necessary to double the sales? In typical “Nard Dog” fashion, Andy creates an employee motivation program to boost office morale and productivity.

Not surprisingly, none of the workers are motivated by his rewards (mostly stuffed animals and trinkets) so, also in typical Nard Dog fashion, in a moment of panic he declares he will get a tattoo on his rear end as his “bottom line” incentive if the team produces results. It takes them one afternoon.

While “The Office” has oh-so-many things to teach us, for our purposes today the lesson is simple: finding the right employee motivation can be pretty powerful in spurring a team towards a goal. All you need is that great prize to get your people pushing themselves (as opposed to you dragging them) across the finish line and moving your business forward as a result.

Although you could employ any manner of scheme to get your team going (even a “booty tat”), when it comes to motivating people there are three time-tested rewards that are consistently effective – money, time and praise – and the best part is that there’s an option for you and your business, no matter your budget for incentives.

The Ends

Show Them the Money

It’s no secret that cash is king, and when it comes to motivating people a little bit of green goes a long way. At the same time, if you are looking for something slightly more thoughtful than an envelope full of cash to hand your employees when they reach their goals, a pre-paid credit card, gift card or gift certificate is also a welcome sight. Although I’m willing to bet a booty tat that no one would return a sack full of cash, if you are going with the gift card make sure that it’s for a desirable establishment.

If you can tailor the gift card to the person receiving it, that’s even better. For example, if the winner is expecting a child or engaged, you can find out where they are registered and purchase a gift card they can use however they choose when the time comes.

Time is on Their Side

This brings us to employee super-motivator number two: if you can’t afford to drop some major dollars on an incentive, offer something that is valuable in a different, but sometimes more important way – give them some time. It can be in the form of an extra vacation day or a month’s worth of half-day Fridays (four Friday half-days to take when they choose) or any other creative combination you can think of.

Again, the point is to let your people know you value them enough to take a hit on the back end (financially-speaking, that is, not like Andy Bernard) when you can’t pony up the cash up front. Besides, even though they’re not likely to ever say it to you – especially considering how easy it is to become unemployed these days – what your employees might want the most for doing well at work is a break from work.

A Good Old Fashioned Pat on the Back

If the above two options are not feasible in your business, sometimes a word of encouragement to show your appreciation is all you need to offer to keep morale up and productivity prodding on. Even though they don’t translate to dollars and cents, praise and acknowledgment are their own form of currency.

Something else to consider is company-wide recognition as an incentive. If your business has a morning meeting or weekly newsletter, a shout out for colleagues near and far to hear could be just the thing to keep the competitive fires stoked within your team. Everybody wants to be #1 and many people only count the top spot if others are aware of it as well.

The Means

Once you determine the size, shape and manner of carrot you will dangle, you need to figure out the best way to help them get there. Here are several key things you should keep in mind when developing or revamping your employee rewards program:


Make sure you start out with reachable goals. If you set the bar so high that it takes too long to get there, the result might actually be discouragement within your team because they feel they will never get to the finish line, so why bother?


It’s a pretty safe bet that you didn’t hire 15 identical employees – you hired each one for that unique something he or she brought to the table. Your incentive program should be created with that same philosophy in mind: allow individuals to shine for their own personal strengths and ensure the criteria for the win doesn’t involve one skill set only bestowed upon select few members of your team.


Another huge de-motivator is boredom, so make sure that you rotate the rewards or change the criteria semi-frequently to keep your staff from losing interest. If you develop small programs with a limited time frame (for example, four quarterly programs instead of one annual competition), you can smoothly switch gears without abruptly changing course mid-stream.

At the end of the workday, the most important factor in your employee rewards or incentive program is whether it works for your company’s particular needs. Although one size does not fit all, the tips outlined above will apply no matter how you tailor your program to fit your team. Once you find that perfect balance, your company will hit its productive stride and really start making some moves toward your ever-improving bottom line. And let’s just hope we mean that in a business sense only!

Have you ever been a part of an employee motivation program that didn’t help improve productivity? What would you have done to make it better?

Anton Pomakov is the Senior Vice President for Marketing at Dallas-based Silverleaf Resorts where he manages marketing development, operations and business growth initiatives. He has spent his entire career as a professional in the hospitality industry, leading marketing and management teams with a goals-based approach to improving customer experience and the bottom line. Follow Anton and Silverleaf Resorts on Twitter or LinkedIn.


  1. R. Wiltschek on the 24th July

    While sounding intuitively correct, dangling carrots is by far not as effective as one might think. The opposite can be the truth (see Dan Pink):

    While noone minds the occasional reward, they do change their mode of thinking, once a reward is on the horizon. What Pink establishes is that instead of money or time off, employees should be given autonomy in their workspace, the means and room to improve their skills as they see fit and a larger picture that they can find themselves in.

  2. R. Wiltschek on the 24th July

    Instead of money or time off -as a reward-, that is. Of course you have to pay them 😛

  3. rcarmstrong on the 24th July

    I think it goes without saying that, if you go with the “attaboy” option, it really should be genuine. Fake praise, most people would agree, is worse than no praise at all…

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