Business Leadership Today

5 Ways To Keep Employees Motivated During Challenging Times


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

Employee motivation is the driving force that fuels performance, fosters innovation, and leads to the success of an organization. Motivated employees are more engaged, more productive, show higher levels of commitment, and are willing to go the extra mile to achieve organizational goals.

However, maintaining employee motivation is not always a straightforward task. A wide array of challenges can significantly impact an employee’s motivation level. 

These challenges can range from personal issues, such as work-life balance and job security, to broader organizational changes, such as restructuring or shifts in company strategy.

External factors like economic downturns, technological advancements, or global pandemics can also pose significant challenges. These challenging situations can create uncertainty and stress, potentially leading to decreased motivation.

The good news is that there are some simple yet highly effective strategies leaders can utilize to keep their team members motivated and help them thrive, even when times are tough. 

To keep employees motivated during challenging times, leaders should focus on these five strategies:

  1. Emphasize purpose
  2. Maintain transparency
  3. Recognize achievements
  4. Provide the right support
  5. Offer flexibility

In the following sections, we will explore strategies that leaders can employ to keep employees motivated during challenging times. 

The Importance of Purpose

Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” 

Purpose is important in both our personal and professional lives. It gives what we do meaning. In the face of adversity, a clear and compelling purpose can serve as a beacon of motivation for employees. 

Purpose transcends the daily grind of work and connects with the deeper impact and value that each employee brings to the table. It answers the fundamental question, “Why does my work matter?”

Leaders play a pivotal role in emphasizing this purpose. They can articulate the organization’s mission and vision in a way that resonates with employees’ personal values and aspirations. 

By doing so, leaders can help employees see the bigger picture and understand how their individual contributions fit into the grand scheme of things.

For instance, a software developer may not just be writing code. They are creating a product that solves real-world problems and improves people’s lives. A customer service representative is not merely resolving complaints; they are ensuring customer satisfaction and building relationships that lead to loyalty and growth for the company.

During challenging times, the importance of purpose becomes even more pronounced. When faced with obstacles or uncertainty, a strong sense of purpose can provide the motivation to persevere. It serves as a reminder that the work employees do is meaningful and impactful.

Consider the example of healthcare workers during a global pandemic. Despite the risks and challenges, they continue to provide care for patients. Their purpose—to save lives and alleviate suffering—fuels their motivation and resilience.

Purpose is not just a lofty ideal but a powerful motivational tool. Leaders who can effectively emphasize purpose and connect it with the work of their employees can foster a motivated and resilient workforce, capable of weathering even the most challenging times.

The Role of Transparency

Transparency in leadership is a critical factor in maintaining employee motivation, particularly during challenging times. It involves open and honest communication about the organization’s situation, including any challenges or changes that may be on the horizon.

Leaders who practice transparency help to build trust within their teams. They keep employees informed about both the good and the bad, avoiding the rumor mill and potential misunderstandings that can lead to anxiety and uncertainty. 

This openness allows employees to feel more secure, as they are not left in the dark about matters that could affect their work or their position within the company.

Transparency can also make employees feel more valued and involved. When leaders share information freely, it sends a message to employees that they are trusted and that their contributions matter. It invites them to participate in problem-solving and decision-making processes, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment.

For example, if a company is facing financial difficulties, a transparent leader might share this information with the team, explaining the situation, its potential impact, and the steps being taken to address it. 

This approach not only keeps everyone informed but also opens the door for employees to offer ideas and solutions, reinforcing their value to the organization.

Transparency in leadership is not just about sharing information; it’s about fostering an environment of trust, value, and collaboration. By being transparent, especially during challenging times, leaders can keep their employees motivated and engaged, ready to face whatever comes their way.

Recognizing Achievements

Recognizing and celebrating employee achievements is a powerful tool for maintaining motivation, particularly during challenging times. When employees feel that their hard work and contributions are noticed and appreciated, it can significantly boost their morale and motivation.

Recognition serves as a reminder to employees that their efforts are valued and impactful. It reinforces the connection between their work and the organization’s success, fostering a sense of pride and ownership. 

Recognition can also foster a positive work environment where employees feel encouraged to strive for excellence and continuous improvement.

During challenging times, recognizing achievements can be even more impactful. It can serve as a beacon of positivity, reminding employees of their capabilities and resilience. It can also foster a sense of unity and camaraderie, as employees celebrate each other’s successes.

There are several recognition strategies that leaders can employ. Here are a few examples:

Public Recognition

Leaders can publicly acknowledge an employee’s achievements during team meetings or through organization-wide communications. This not only boosts the recognized employee’s morale but also sets a positive example for others.

Personalized Messages

A personalized note expressing appreciation for an employee’s specific contribution can make them feel truly valued. This can be particularly effective, as it shows the leader’s personal engagement and appreciation.

Incentives and Rewards Programs

Implementing incentives and rewards programs can be a great way to motivate employees. This could include things like “Employee of the Month” awards or performance-based bonuses.

Peer Recognition Programs

Encouraging employees to recognize each other’s achievements can foster a supportive and collaborative work environment. This could be facilitated through platforms where employees can share “shout outs” or “kudos” with their peers.

Professional Development Opportunities

Offering opportunities for further learning and development can be a great way to recognize employees. It shows that the organization values their growth and is willing to invest in their future.

Recognizing achievements is a powerful strategy for keeping employees motivated during challenging times. By acknowledging their hard work and contributions, leaders can foster a positive and motivating work environment where employees feel valued and inspired to do their best.

Offering Support

During challenging times, the support provided by leaders can play a profound role in maintaining employee motivation. This support can take various forms, each addressing different aspects of an employee’s professional and personal well-being.

Skill Development Resources

One of the key areas where leaders can offer support is in the development of skills. By providing resources for training and development, particularly leadership development, leaders can help employees adapt to new challenges and changes in their work environment. 

This could include workshops, online courses, or even one-on-one coaching sessions. For example, if a company is transitioning to a new software system, leaders could provide training sessions to help employees learn how to use the new system effectively. 

This not only equips employees with the skills they need but also shows them that the organization is invested in their growth and success.

Mental Health Resources

Another critical area of support is mental health. Challenging times can often lead to increased stress and anxiety. Leaders can help address this by providing resources such as counseling services, mental health days, or initiatives that promote work-life balance.

For instance, a company could offer access to a mental health hotline or arrange regular check-ins with a counselor. Leaders could also encourage employees to take time off when needed or promote activities that help reduce stress, such as mindfulness exercises or team-building events.

The Impact of Support

Providing support in these ways can have a significant impact on employees’ motivation. 

When employees feel supported, they are likely to feel more secure in their roles. They know that they have the resources and backing they need to navigate through challenges, which can boost their confidence and drive to perform.

Support from leaders can also foster a sense of belonging and loyalty among employees. When employees see that their leaders care about their well-being and professional growth, they are likely to feel more connected to the organization and motivated to contribute to its success.

Offering support during challenging times is not just about helping employees get through difficulties. It’s about empowering them to grow, fostering a positive work environment, and, ultimately, driving the organization’s success.

The Need for Flexibility

In the aftermath of the pandemic and amidst shifting workforce priorities, flexibility has become more than just a perk; it’s a necessity. Especially during challenging times, the ability to adapt and be flexible in work arrangements can play a significant role in maintaining employee motivation.

Flexibility in work arrangements can take many forms, including flexible working hours, remote work options, or job-sharing arrangements. These arrangements allow employees to balance their work commitments with their personal responsibilities, reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction.

For example, during a global pandemic, organizations that were able to shift to remote work quickly were able to maintain operations while ensuring the safety of their employees. This not only allowed work to continue but also showed employees that the organization values their well-being, which can significantly boost motivation.

Similarly, offering flexible working hours can be particularly beneficial for employees who may be dealing with personal challenges, such as childcare or eldercare responsibilities. 

By allowing employees to adjust their work schedules to accommodate these responsibilities, companies can help reduce stress and prevent burnout, leading to higher motivation levels.

Flexibility can also foster a sense of autonomy and trust in employees. When employees are given the freedom to choose when and how they work, they often feel more trusted and valued by the organization. This can lead to increased job satisfaction, higher productivity, and greater motivation to succeed.

Flexibility helps organizations accommodate employees’ needs and create a supportive and trusting work environment where employees feel valued and empowered. 

Navigating Specific Challenges

In the face of adversity, employees often encounter a variety of specific challenges. These can range from everyday microstressors to significant shifts brought about by AI and technological advancements, transitions, and global pandemics. These challenges don’t just affect businesses and private-sector workers; they also have a significant impact on the public sector.

Here are some strategies that leaders can employ to help their employees navigate these challenges:


Microstressors are small, daily occurrences that can accumulate over time and lead to high stress and burnout. While many organizations may take a “tough it out” approach, this can be detrimental to well-being and lead to disengagement and turnover.

Leaders can help employees manage these by fostering a supportive work environment and promoting self-care, stress management techniques, and team interventions that raise awareness of microstressors and help employees address them. 

For example, Google encourages its employees to take regular breaks and provides spaces for rest and relaxation to help manage daily stressors.

AI and Technological Advancements

The rapid pace of technological change can be overwhelming. Leaders can support their employees by providing ongoing training, upskilling, and development opportunities. 

For instance, Amazon offers its employees upskilling programs to help them adapt to new technologies and roles.


Transitions, whether they involve a change in role, team, or even the entire organization, can be challenging. Leaders can ease these transitions by maintaining open communication, providing clear expectations, and offering support throughout the process. 

A case in point is IBM’s robust onboarding program that supports new hires as they transition into their new roles.

Global Pandemics

Global pandemics, like COVID-19, have presented unprecedented challenges. Leaders can support their employees during such times by prioritizing health and safety, offering flexible work arrangements, and providing resources for mental health and wellness. 

Companies like Microsoft responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by shifting to remote work, offering employees additional paid time off, and providing resources for remote work and mental health.

Public Sector Challenges

Employees in the public sector often face unique challenges such as bureaucratic red tape, policy changes, or public scrutiny. These challenges can be even more difficult to navigate when you throw microstressors, technological advancements, transitions, and global pandemics into the mix.

Leaders in these settings can support their teams by advocating for them, offering training and upskilling, providing clear communication about changes, and fostering a resilient organizational culture. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for example, has implemented resilience training programs to help employees navigate the unique challenges of public sector work.

While the specific challenges may vary, the underlying principles of empathy, support, communication, and flexibility remain critical in helping employees navigate through them. By understanding and addressing these challenges, leaders can help foster a resilient and motivated workforce capable of thriving even in the face of adversity.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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