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How to Motivate a Diverse Workplace

by Scott Morgan

Many people think diversity in the workplace refers mainly to gender and race, but diversity also refers to differences in age, culture, religion, sexual orientation and physical ability. The contemporary perspective on workplace diversity also recognizes individual differences in temperament and other personal qualities. All this creates quite the challenge for managers who must motivate their staffs.

Managing Diversity

Understanding motivation requires understanding how to manage diversity. Every employee has his own background, beliefs, attitudes, values and way of thinking. One might be motivated by financial rewards, another by perks, still another by job quality. To further complicate matters, motivations change as employees age or change roles. Rather than treat everyone the same or apply broad assumptions, managers must understand what makes each employee unique and build on those strengths.

Never Assume

Managers should never assume they know what works for everyone. They must pay attention to what employees say and do, which often reveals an employee's work ethic, drive and sensibilities. Do not assume, for example, that all employees like to be praised publicly. Some are shy. Others balk at public praise because of religious or cultural beliefs. When in doubt, ask employees what simple things you can do to help encourage and motivate them.

Tap Into Teamwork

Teams, particularly those comprised of people from diverse backgrounds, offer more perspectives and ideas than any one person. Building a teamwork culture into your workplace reinforces the idea that various perspectives are valued. The key to building motivated teams is to foster openness, mutual trust, respect and commitment to the ideas being presented. When individuals feel they are contributing, they are more likely to see a project through to the best of their abilities.

Motivating Different Generations

With as many as four generations working together, understanding what drives each is important. According to Rosa Schmidt of the Rutgers University Center for Management Development, Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, have a strong focus on civic duty, a need for achievement and the ability to multitask. Members of Generation X, born between 1960 and 1980, want to learn and be challenged. Baby Boomers, born between 1943 and 1960, want to be valued for their contributions. Those born between 1922 and 1943 tend to be hard workers who respect authority. It is important that managers understand the needs and priorities of each type of employee and understand what motivates them.

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