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What are the best ways for a project manager to improve employee satisfaction?
Why is so difficult to motivate employees?
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I'm answering in the context of the project, motivating team members should be an everyday concern of the project manager even if there are external reasons for employee dissatisfaction e.g. reorganizations, layoffs.
It demands putting in practice leadership and communication skills. In the projects i manage i try to keep all the members engaged (stakeholder engagement). I talk with the team, not only of issues related to the project but also to daily life situations. I'm always available to hear them and always seek to use humor. Asking their opinion, praising and open for constructive feedback. I have the actions log updated and available, risks and issues tracked and project activities visible. As Eric Idle, member of Monty Phython would say "Always look to the bright side of life. "
Hi Andreea,
Actually it isn't that difficult if you understand what is behind your team's (and individuals) expectations. But fur sure there's no secret recipe neither "one size fits all" approach to succeed.

Here are some reading tips that can help you out:
Dan Pink - DRIVE
Engaged, empathy, trust, influence. Especially, in a matrix or functional organization, a challenging aspect of project management is the human resource/team management piece. Chocolate never hurts though :)
Because they are human beings. And you too. First of all, you have to thing in yourself. Motivation as other things are subjective matters that you have to tried to translate into objective ones. PMI has published an artilcle I wrote that perhaps helps you to understand things from other point of view: physic. Here the article:
Moruzi -

The illusion is that we can motivate people. Motivation comes from within - what we need to do is ignite the flame within our employees to become motivated.

Suleander has provided some good references - to those, I'd add Greenleaf's Servant Leadership, Gostick's The Carrot Principle, and Lencioni's Three Signs of a Miserable Job.

If you read those three books, you'll get lots of ideas on how to light a sustainable flame!

As was stated before, there is no one size fits all. Every member of the team will find motivation differently. You need to understand what each employee wants and needs (remember as with customers these are not always the same thing). Then you need to check back periodically because this can change over time.
It is hard to say. there are lots of book out there regarding the case. It requires lots of efforts and there are a lot of factors. The project/department environment is also very important.
Try to engage with your team on a daily basis, do the informal review sessions throughout the project especially when it comes to motivating team members. Make sure that these sessions are casual and friendly. Also, establish individual and team goals.
If you understand your team and how they think, it will be easy for your to motivate them but generally speaking, a great incentive program in place motivates people.
Thank you all for your answers! It really helped me a lot!
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"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without."

- Buddha