What motivates employees to do well at work? A Gallup poll, conducted regularly since the 1940s, points to an unequivocal answer – and it’s not the answer that most bosses think. Bosses have been asked to answer what they think motivates their employees, and they tend to answer wrong. ‘High wages,’ they say. ‘Opportunities for promotion.’ ‘Job security.’

We’ve been thinking about this recently, because we’ve been on a training roadshow, and a key element of the day is asking the managers of a large retail operation about what they think motivates their people. A good number of the managers get the right answer, but there is a sizeable minority who make the same mistake that Gallup found bosses tend to make.

Ok, we’ll put you out of suspense: the top three motivating factors for employees are, in reverse order of importance:

Third – help with personal problems
Second – feeling of being involved
First – recognition

If you have people working for you who aren’t in the office every day, communication is absolutely vital. Honest feedback on how you manage this feedback is a good indicator of how you communicate messages to clients and the public in general. Communication, within an organisation, isn’t something you ‘do’: how you communicate is a key part of your business ethos. Are you open and honest? Or are you secretive? Do you micro-manage information? Or is your door open so people can make up their own minds?

What questions might we ask about these remote workers to tap into these motivating factors?

Working from home is often a way of getting someone with a busy personal life – such as a carer, or someone with young children – to keep momentum in their career. These are people for whom things can change quickly. Do you know what is going on in their lives? Is every personal communication with them about bad news? How much flexibility are you able to give them? Are you able to anticipate problems before they happen?

Does the remote worker feel involved in how the organisation is run? Do they understand why they are doing things – or are they presented with a series of unrelated and mysterious tasks? Is there something that they do that annoys them – and that they don’t know is vital?

Finally, how do you reward (other than financially) exceptional service from the remote worker? Can you reach them on social media to say ‘well done’? Is your communication with them about their performance always only negative, or contact made only when they haven’t met expectations? How do you know when they’ve gone the extra mile? And how do you say a warm, personal, timely ‘thank you’ to someone who might be on a different continent?

At PS Programmes, we are committed to helping people improve their communication skills in meetings, in front of audiences and in the media. Remote workers present a special communications problem, and it’s a problem that goes both ways between the employer and employee. As more and more people work from home, how do we recognise, reward, encourage and retain the loyalty of people we rarely see? If the monthly wage is of less importance than our three key motivators, how do employers go beyond being numbers in a bank account and a list of tasks?

We don’t pretend to know the answers, but if you haven’t thought about the questions (perhaps you’re one of Gallup’s bosses who thinks high wages are the chief motivator) you might have a bigger problem than you realise.

It’s tempting, when you focus on the bottom line, to confuse cost with value. We have to remember that seated at another, far-off computer screen is a colleague with ideas of their own.

Support, communication, recognition – hard enough to do in the workplace. The employer who can do it for their remote workers is a rare breed.

PS Programmes deliver presentation skills, TV and radio media training and crisis media management, tailored to the needs of our clients. This article appears on https://www.presentationskillsprogrammes.co.uk and http://www.nadinedereza.com/