Team Motivation is About More than Bonuses

We make customer service a priority for our employees, but how are we serving our employees?

I’ve worked for several different managers in my time in property management. There are two types of managers: bosses and leaders. The bosses can be great at their job and if they are smart or lucky, they can hire terrific worker bees to get tasks accomplished. They can manage through fear/intimidation or detachment or they can manage through sugary sweet Atta girl pats on the back. In the end they can be a good boss or a bad boss. Then there are leaders. The great leaders I have worked with (with, not for), are folks that I would still call today for advice. They either had my respect immediately because of the way they treated others around them or they earned my respect through their actions. They are people that I look up to and admire and continue to learn from. I am very lucky to be working with the leader I have currently, and strive to align my actions as a manager with his leadership style.

I am also blessed to have the team that I work with. I start my day with 5 minutes of gratitude every morning. One of the things I am always thankful for is having the job I love and the best team I could ask for. I do know, however, that just because it’s my dream job doesn’t mean that’s true for everybody. So how do I keep motivation high in our department?

1. Make learning and training part of everybody’s routine.  Our world is changing so fast I can barely keep up and I my team is in the same boat. It’s up to me to give them as many tools as possible to succeed. Training, in my eyes, is a necessity but it’s also a reward and I treat it as such. Monthly training via online seminars and in-house ‘lunch and learns’ covering everything from resident retention to time management allow for continual career development; It’s about creating the total package. Even though most of my team members are headquartered in the corporate office, they have all earned their NALP designation. It’s important that they be empathetic to the needs and goals of our onsite employees and understand the leasing process from initial contact to renewal. Attendance at large conferences like AIM, NAA or Brainstorming are offered as rewards for major accomplishments. Speaking of rewards, if there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that money is only a temporary motivator.

Team Motivation

2. Time is the ultimate reward. Whether it’s time off or face time with the head honchos, time is a serious motivator. When I worked for UDR, our corporate trainer organized a “Walk of Fame” luncheon quarterly. It was only for those employees that reached top scores on their secret shops. The absolute BEST part of the luncheon is that we got to spend time with our Area Vice President, Regional, Corporate Marketing and Recruiter. It was truly just nice to know that they knew who we were. Lunch with our company president is always the most popular reward.

3. Make laughter a habit & part of the culture. You’re great at your job…everybody knows that. That’s why you’re a manager. Now stop taking yourself so seriously! Make laughter a habit. We start every morning with a motivational YouTube video like “Thumbs up for Rock and Roll” followed by the next funniest video we can find. Yes, it’s true: I “waste” the first 10 minutes of my team’s day with YouTube videos. Why? Because happy employees produce better, error-free work. A happy office is more comfortable to come into than a tension filled one. Listen, we cannot control if traffic was terrible or someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/roommate was a total jerk this morning. We can, however, stop that from ruining the entire work day. On Fridays, we skip YouTube and go straight to our Friday Morning Marketing Dance Party. It’s true. Five minutes of grooving to Missy Elliot or Katy Perry will perk up the morning and keep your staff on point…some of the accountants even join in now.

4. Want real input? Get everyone out of the office. I’m a big believer in personal time, so everyone on my team is allowed to leave early on Fridays IF, before they leave, they go on a run with me. It’s usually between 8-10 miles done at a super easy pace. We get fresh air flowing through our lungs, blood pumping through our veins, and creativity dripping out of every pore (along with a decent amount of sweat). As John Ratey noted in his seminal work Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008), “Exercise… affects not only your ability to think, create, and solve, but your mood and ability to lean into uncertainty, risk, judgment, and anxiety in a substantial, measurable way…”.

Movers and Shakers
Movers and Shakers

I can’t tell you how many campaigns we’ve created or solutions we’ve come up with during these runs. Part of it is that when we are on the jogging path, we are all equal. The manager/employee barrier is gone and we’re just shooting the breeze.   I recognize that staffing isn’t always in place to give everyone the afternoon off, but how about hitting a Zumba class after work and springing for smoothies? Why not offer an extended lunch where the group walks to a restaurant together? Get your team outside, open their minds and drop their defenses.

5. Finally, ask your team. Don’t pretend to know what your team members want or need. One time, my team member didn’t want to carry both a personal and a company phone and wondered if there was anything I could do about it. Another time, two of my team members wanted Macbooks. The only thing another member wanted was to shift her work schedule 30 minutes so she could avoid the worst part of DC rush hour. Even though they weren’t typical, none of these were backbreaking requests. Sometimes the things that will keep your employees happiest are things that would never cross your mind.

Team Motivation


Pay your team enough so that money isn’t an issue, give your employees high praise when they earn it, and always provide the opportunity to learn and grow….then break out some Katy Perry and start jamming.

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