Motivating Returning Staff

It will be very strange, for many people, when they return to work after a long period of ‘different arrangements’ being in place. Although they may, physically, be back, where is their head and how motivated are they as individuals on the return? As a manager you need to know this.

You might think that people will be highly motivated, after all many have had months at home and spent time with their family and plenty of time to reflect on things. But for many their motivation to dive back into work doesn’t follow. If they work have been working remotely, it may be particularly difficult to get back into a work routine – why? One reason may be that they are now back and around other people who have been working steadily while they were away from the office/ workplace.

There are also many reasons why people might be having a hard time getting work done after the past few months. But before you can take steps to energise and motivate these people, you need to understand more about why they are having trouble getting started.

Here are three common reasons why people are slow to get back into the game — and what to do about it:

Being out of the office creates physical and mental distance from work. Lots of research suggests that the more distant they are from something, the more abstractly people will think about it.

When it comes to work, distance is a double-edged sword. It can help people think about their priorities (we’ll take that up in the next section), but it can also make the sheer volume of what they have to accomplish seem insurmountable. If there is a big project to complete, people may well find it difficult to see how they will actually get it done.

This sense that a project can’t be done is paralysing, because people’s motivation to complete it is increased by both the importance of the work they are doing and crucially, the likelihood that they will actually be able to complete it. In other words, if they don’t think they can get a particular task done, they will be unlikely to muster the energy to work on it.

So what can you do? Turn the abstract task into specific steps that they can complete. Look at their to-do list with them and dedicate specific times to addressing the components of the bigger project. Point them in the direction of others who have succeeded on similar projects. Give them the opportunity to reach out to colleagues whose help they are going to need to find out when they can be available to do their part. Use their availability to help the individual under pressure to set deadlines for completing particular aspects of the work.

When people are in the routine of going to work and doing the next thing that needs to be done — they attend the meetings on their calendar, tick off items on their to-do list, and take care of the requests that colleagues and clients make — the workday probably goes by quickly. It is typically followed by time at home that may also be a blur of family responsibilities, chores around the house, and a little time for relaxation. People don’t have a lot of time each day to focus on the collected impact of the work they are doing or to think about the other ways they might spend their time.

When absent from work, people realign their priorities. Chances are, they spend some time with family or friends and reconnect with other passions like travel, exercise, or just lying around with a good book.

In getting back to the workplace people may need some help in convincing themselves that the collection of tasks they are doing is worth the effort. Work alongside such people and take the time to look at the work they have done previously in the business catalogue what it has added up to. What are the big-picture things they have accomplished? In what ways have they positively affected the lives of other people?

The real sense of mission in people’s work comes from that combination of seeing how the tasks they perform are connected to a more significant set of outcomes (even if they are just one part of a much larger team). Happiness in the workplace occurs when people feel like their work serves a broader purpose that connects to other people. They also feel greater satisfaction with the tasks they perform. When coming back to work people should be helped to focus on why their work isn’t just a job, but also a calling.

Even if people believe deeply in the mission behind the work they are doing, they might still have trouble getting back into their work after taking time off. It may be that they are just bored with the set of tasks they have been performing and in the interim time away things have moved on for them.

Work on concepts like workflow suggests that people are most engaged with their work when they’re working right at the limit of what they’re capable of doing (that space between a task being too easy and a task being too hard), and where each action succeeds and naturally leads to the next. If people are not getting this sense of daily engagement, the job they are in may no longer be a challenge for them. Moving forward in their career (either with your business or a new one remember) may well be on their mind. If you have good people you want to keep (and you should want to keep) you need to be aware of this potential frustration, their likely options and act.

First, identify a role that would provide the challenge they want. Second, think about the additional skills they might need to be a good fit for this role. During the pandemic, a lot of people put off additional training and education that might enhance their people’s skills. Ensure that these good people feel they are being looked after, developed and trained or you will surely lose them. New knowledge and skills help people re-energise when they have trouble getting motivated.

The goal is to address the short-term and long-term factors that sap their drive. By having concrete next steps that feel connected to a key mission, you, as a manager, can help maximise people’s motivation to get work done. By thinking about the next generation of skills they need to acquire, you also help them maintain that motivation over the long term and retain those good employees you so need.

So, think carefully about those returning. Meet with them one to one and make sure that you have understood the whole matter of motivation and the key motivational factors that may be affecting the individual as people return to the workplace.

From there you can help people get back to making things happen for your business.

Need some help with motivation – for a free, no obligation chat get in touch with us at or call us on 01162325231

The Tinderbox Team