How to Motivate Employees During COVID-19

how to motivate employees during covid 19 pandemic

COVID-19 shone the spotlight on employee motivation when the nature of work changed overnight. In April 2020, a survey from Clutch revealed that 66% of employees were working remotely at least some of the time since the beginning of the pandemic and 44% were working remotely five days a week (up from 17% working remotely full time before the pandemic).

Before COVID-19, around two-thirds of employees were disengaged and 26% were motivated but unhappy. Then, when the global pandemic hit, the new stay-at-home orders and financial uncertainty added mental health challenges to the mix. Whether your workforce is still largely remote or working part-time in the office, employee motivation should be one of your ongoing priorities.


Understanding Motivation


Motivation is much more complex than most people think, and it’s important to understand how it works to ensure that your efforts go to the right place. 

Productive vs. Unproductive Motivation

Rather than being simply a matter of quantity, motivation is also a matter of quality. An employee can be motivated to sabotage an operation just as easily as they can be motivated to help it succeed. 

As explained by Kerry Goyette in her TEDx Talk Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees, we all have a mix of productive (positive) and counterproductive (negative) motivation. The key is to elevate productive motivation and reduce counterproductive motivation to a minimum.

Pleasure vs. Pain

The second aspect of motivation to be aware of is that we’re motivated by either pleasure or pain. Pleasure-based motivations could be:

  • Personal ambition
  • A sense of achievement
  • Excitement about new opportunities

Pain-based motivations could be to:

  • Prevent problems
  • Mitigate risks
  • Protect what the company has achieved so far

While we all have a mix of both pleasure-based and pain-based motivations, each employee will generally be dominant in one and needs to be motivated in that specific way.


How to Elevate Productive Motivation


Communicate Regularly

No matter which kind of motivation an employee responds to best, everyone needs to feel connected. While working from home, it’s more important than ever to build relationships and communicate regularly to combat feelings of isolation and understand individual motivations better.

For example, it may be that an employee is already motivated but is struggling to get work done with their children at home, or is dealing with anxiety about a relative who’s sick. Regular one-on-one catch-ups via video chat and calls can provide a window into each employee’s motivations, needs, and concerns.

Strengthen Your Teams

Along with isolation, difficulties collaborating with peers has been one of the top issues with remote work due to COVID-19. Whereas previously employees could walk over to a workmate’s desk, now they have to wait for that workmate to open their email and respond.

In a remote working situation, you can schedule regular teleconference calls for teams and/or use tools like virtual rooms to facilitate communication. You can also strengthen motivation in your teams by putting motivated employees together—separate from unmotivated peers.

Offer Flexible Benefits

When staff members are working from home, many may be struggling to focus with all of the additional distractions (children, cleaning, cooking, etc.). While you personally might not be able to help, you can take advantage of employee engagement tools that offer cleaning, meals out, and childcare benefits to incentivize your staff.

Along with perks for a job well done, remember to show consideration for the particular challenges your employees face. An extension on a deadline when needed, flexible work schedules, and quarantine care packages can all go a long way to help keep employees’ motivation high.

Invest in Learning

According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees would stay longer at a company if it simply gave them opportunities to learn. And while staff members are stuck at home on lockdown, it’s a perfect opportunity to give staff members the chance to take a virtual course that matches their interests.

As your staff members build their professional capacity, be sure to offer them the chance to put their new skills to use by delegating some of your tasks to them or initiating a relevant project. Putting their skills into practice will not only help your employees to consolidate their new knowledge and skills but also give them a sense of purpose at a time when everything else is up in the air.

Involve Your Employees

Lastly, involving your employees in making decisions, inviting their feedback, and keeping them in the loop is a powerful way to boost motivation. Whether an employee is motivated by pleasure or pain, everyone likes working somewhere they feel valued and where their superiors really care what they think.

As mentioned at the beginning, 26% of employees are motivated but unhappy at work. If you can provide a workplace where feedback from employees is invited and utilized, you would ensure that those staff members stay productively motivated and—better still—don’t go and work for somebody else.


Health Comes First


Whatever other measures you take, make sure to prioritize your employees’ health—including their physical as well as mental health. If your staff members are coming into the office part-time, rearrange the office space to respect physical distance requirements and offer 70% alcohol and face masks if/when required.

If an employee is sick, stressed, or bereaved, be sure to meet the standards for industry leave and pay requirements to show the employee that they’re valued. They’ll be extremely grateful for your understanding and may come back to work more motivated than ever!




During COVID-19, employees face more challenges than usual—including the mental health challenges of isolation and financial uncertainty as well as the distractions that come with working from home. As an employer, you can elevate productive motivation by:

  • Communicating regularly with your employees
  • Facilitating collaboration
  • Offering flexible benefits and perks
  • Providing opportunities to learn
  • Giving employees the chance to have a say

When you’re finally able to resume face-to-face workdays, keep staff members motivated by creating a COVID-safe workplace and showing consideration for your employees’ needs. The pandemic has changed the face of work—and “business as usual” has to evolve. Work to unleash the productive motivation in each employee against the background of COVID-19, and watch your organization thrive.