Sixty (plus) Ways to Motivate Event Staff

by Wayne Coleman

Asked about how many employees worked for him, an experienced facility manager replied, "About half of them."

No facility manager can develop a successful guest relations program without good event staff morale, anymore than he or she could build a brick wall without mortar. An unhappy, idle staff, will be recognized as such by all guests and will affect each guest’s entertainment experience.

If the process of motivating event staff is so basic to managing them, why is it such a mysterious topic?

The answer is that motivating event staff is a multi-faceted issue involving relationships of trust and loyalty that must develop over time. No single thing a manager can say or do will motivate employees, and no one awards program is a panacea that will magically create high morale.

When supervising an event staff comprised of low hourly wage employees or volunteers, money isn’t the main motivator. They can easily find another job with equivalent pay. People will stay with you because they feel respected, appreciated, and because their job is fun.

The key to having a high morale and highly motivated event staff lies in how they are supervised.

First, hire the right people. One key is to recruit in numbers adequate to allow selectivity. For example, to hire five people try interviewing 15 people before making your decision. You’ll have the luxury of determining which five are the best rather than interviewing only five and trying to decide whether you can live with them or not.

During the selection interview, show the candidate a job description. Explain the negatives, i.e., working the show vs. watching the show, and get their commitment that they want to work. They will never be more motivated to do as you say than they are at the moment of hire.

Second, provide new hires a complete orientation before their first event. Morale forms before their first event. Beyond having them know the essentials of policies and procedures, employee handbook, job description, organization chart, uniform, name badge, reporting procedures, etc., your orientation goal for new employees is for them to feel proud to be a member of your professional organization. They should believe in your policies and procedures and that they will be professionally coached and supervised by trained supervisors.

The third key is continuous effective training. Don’t confuse orientation with training. Training involves developing staff skills and having people make the transition from knowing what to do to being able to do it. They can develop skills by learning effective strategies, reviewing sample verbiage and role-playing guest greetings, role-playing responses to guests’ questions and complaints, role-playing interventions and so on. Frequently students or younger staff are reluctant to proactively address guest problems (smoking, changing seats, profanity), and they may lack tact when they do approach guests. By rehearsing their words and actions for these situations during training role-plays, all staff will be much more confident on the job. Self-confidence makes people's jobs easier, which contributes to improved morale.

Fourth, even well trained staff requires competent challenging supervision by trained supervisors. Frequently, part time event supervisors are former event staff who have been promoted by longevity or exemplary attendance. They may bring no prior supervisory experience from other jobs and will model their supervisor behaviors after their own parenting habits or the observed behaviors of other supervisors. Train them to do their jobs and to reinforce the good behaviors of event staff. Train them to evaluate performance and to give coaching feedback in a positive manner. Train them to conduct correctional conferences with under-achieving employees so as not to reduce employees’ self-esteem or morale. An additional benefit of having trained, competent supervisors is having an event staff that can give feedback to supervisors and ask questions and advice of supervisors without fear of retribution or ridicule.

Fifth, although award and reward programs provide fun and tangible recognition, the programs by themselves do not result in high staff morale. The bottom line is that developing a dedicated and motivated event staff is a result of how your people are supervised.

There is an important difference between awards and rewards:

  1. Awards may be won through contests or voted upon by management or peers, i.e., upper level usher of the month. Winning an award is not entirely within the control of an employee, and only one employee or a very few will win. 
  2. Rewards are earned by individual employees’ actions, such as attendance or punctuality prizes. The employee controls the necessary behaviors to win, and everybody who meets the reward criteria will win the reward.

Most recognition programs include a blend of awards and rewards. If you recognize only top performers through awards such as employee or volunteer of the month, only your top performers will win. Employees who think that an award is unattainable will not be motivated to change their behaviors. The bulk of your employees, the solid employees who show up for every event and do their jobs, may never win an award. Therefore, your recognition program should also include rewards for performances achievable by everyone.

Additional Ways to Motivate Event Staff

  1. Learn names and call everyone by name
  2. When someone does something well, tell them about it, congratulate them
  3. Write personal congratulatory notes
  4. Give recognition freely
  5. Say "Thank you" for something they’ve done
  6. Be sure staff understand your facility mission and goals so that they can appreciate the thank you's
  7. Actively listen, make eye contact, reflect back what they say.
  8. Recognize important events in people’s lives
  9. Mention them and something they did well at pre-event meetings
  10. Give constant praise
  11. Train supervisors always to maintain positive upbeat attitude
  12. Be available after pre-event meetings for personal questions
  13. Arrange for your superior to acknowledge other’s work
  14. Repeat compliments from others
  15. Ask about other’s interests
  16. Invite someone to join you on break
  17. Share information
  18. Give reasons for directions
  19. Talk one-on-one when time permits
  20. Ask for opinions on how to solve problems or improve practices
  21. Create an employee quality council to meet monthly or quarterly to suggest improvements
  22. Share experiences
  23. Offer corrective suggestions in private
  24. Emphasize that they are the special few qualified to do what they do, take pride in their work
  25. Reinforce the importance of their job
  26. Keep them informed of facility happenings and policies
  27. Report findings of customer surveys to them
  28. Write personal thank you notes
  29. Lead by example
  30. Assign enough staff to an event that staff doesn’t feel overworked or taken advantage of
  31. Provide attractive uniforms
  32. Arrange occasional photo with a star
  33. Be visible
  34. Have and show concern for them
  35. Empower them to make decisions on the front line to take pride in "their" building
  36. Have the facility director speak to staff occasionally to give a "state of the facility" address
  37. Provide tickets to an event
  38. Send a birthday card with your signature
  39. Give of yourself; have coffee in the event staff break room and talk to people
  40. Sit with new employees and those you don’t know by name
  41. Have supervisors occasionally distribute free lunch coupons to hand out on the spot to employees doing a good job, or "Attaboy" and "Attagirl" redeemable certificates
  42. Create "Certificates of Appreciation" with your word processor and special certificate paper
  43. Make up awards for standard as well as special one-time occurrences: safety award, great idea award, tactfulness, training completion, maintaining your cool in the face of an irate guest, patron courtesy, assistance to co-workers, working through a break at a tough event, doing something "fan friendly"
  44. Schedule family photo sessions by your facility photographer
  45. Give facility or team logo items—T-shirts, gym bags, mugs, pens, remaining event giveaway items
  46. Supply surprise free dessert or other food item in break room at an event
  47. Walk around with an instant camera and take candid photos of employees working; post photos publicly, and let employees take them home at the end of the week
  48. Divide employee of the month awards into various employee categories, and in large facilities, divide them again by seating levels or quadrants.
  49. Provide recognition to employees of the month on the court or field, and provide four tickets for friends and family to be present
  50. Affix permanent stars for their name badges symbolizing award winner
  51. Provide memberships in a local health club to employees as a service award
  52. Add employee news to your facility newsletter including births, marriages, illnesses, anniversaries, etc.
  53. Acknowledge anniversaries at pre-event meetings
  54. Award plaques for 1, 5, 10 years, etc., of service
  55. Draw names of employees with perfect attendance for a month. Select ten people to receive a $10 bonus.
  56. Provide in-house scrip, i.e., Mets Money, Braves Bucks, Cubs Cash, etc., as a cash substitute for an award
  57. Treat staff like family; remember the Golden Rule
  58. Hold annual staff and family picnic or holiday party, or skate on the ice, etc.
  59. Plan a staff pizza party rewarding a long day, a tough event, or tough event week

Wayne Coleman, MBA, is a principal of TAME, Training Assembly Managers and Employees, specializing in training workshops for event staff and supervisors. He has authored many programs and videos and has presented at numerous IAVM functions. His telephone is 770.498.9524, and his Website is


Reprinted from Facility Manager, July-August 1999