"You can do it." "I think you'd be a great fit for this." "I really enjoyed how you..."

These kinds of sentiments aren't all that difficult to deliver, and a little encouragement can go a long way when it comes to keeping both morale and productivity high within your team. 

The tricky part is, the amount of encouragement your workers might need from you isn't necessarily static. A tough project, for example, can make your team crave more, and personality differences might mean that one person is going to seek out more praise than the next. Add in the fact that people can respond to different types of encouragement better than others and the issue of motivation gets even more complicated.

So how do you know if your workers need a little pick-me-up from you? They often communicate it in the following ways.

The volunteer rate is abysmal. 

Sometimes a lack of volunteering has to do with already having extreme workloads, lack of clarity about the commitment required, or a simple mismatch between the opportunity and what the workers are genuinely interested in. But a poor volunteer rate also can signal that workers don't feel confident enough to step outside their usual duties. 

Rather than just announce the chance and wait for someone to bite, point out to the team or individual workers why you thought they would enjoy or do a great job with the work. 

Projects take longer than usual.

Workers who are struggling with their confidence or who feel like you don't care often will turn in work beyond given deadlines, not because they're incompetent, but because they keep second-guessing what they've decided or completed. They keep looking for missing data or ways to make improvements with the intention of earning some extra kudos, even when there's no fault in their result.

Here, be specific about what you're looking for in terms of work or project requirements. Schedule consistent check-ins where you can confirm that you're satisfied and set up the next steps for them to take.

Nobody makes jokes.

In a healthy work culture, your team feels comfortable enough with you and each other to let their sense of humor color the day a bit. If workers never seem to crack a smile or overreact to small issues, then they're likely feeling like all you care about is the bottom line. 

Clarify how they're connecting to the company purpose rather than profits. Be forgiving after mistakes, and give the team plenty of time to know you outside of the conference room.

They highlight every potential difficulty or challenge, no matter how miniscule. 

When a worker painstakingly identifies everything they're worried about or have on their plate, the point isn't for them to find solutions and reduce risks. It's to passive-aggressively tell you that they're feeling overwhelmed, and to try to convince you to bail on your plans so they can escape the stress. Be clear about what deserves concern and what they can let go, and point out how they have risen to meet similar challenges in the past. Experiment with workload shifts and more one-on-one time where they can vent and get feedback, as well.   

As a leader, you shouldn't expect your workers to know by osmosis that you value them. They are going to get discouraged, even if it's not your fault, and it's your job in those moments to show them that you believe in their personal and corporate worth. Be proactive with your kindness, and don't underestimate your team's ability to internalize it for long-term results.

Published on: Nov 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.