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What kills motivation in employees?

Updated: Feb 24


What stops employees from initiating, persisting, and putting in mental effort? 

Employees’ motivation accounts for 40% of project team’s success according to Prof. Richard E. Clark and Bror Saxberg. How do you help employees (and yourself) when they lose their motivation? Pick up the wrong strategy and it may backfire.


As you would expect, identifying the reasons will be the first step to take. Prof. Clark and Saxberg outline four main ones.


1. There is a misalignment of values between the demotivated employee and the company's.


This may be because the company values aren’t clearly defined or communicated, or both. Every company needs a strategy to engage their employees. Why not to start by finding out about the employees’ working and thinking styles, what drives them and what they will naturally prefer to avoid. Discover what their “why” is and how it aligns with the company’s purpose. Build your team by helping them and yourself understand one another.


2. They may not believe they have the capacity to succeed in their job or in certain tasks.

Or, they may be lacking the resources they need. 


Help them build their confidence and competence, and secure the resources. Encourage them and explain that you are there to support them. As Google’s research on what makes an effective team suggests, psychological safety is key. Proactively work on building trust in your team.

Sometimes employees may feel overqualified, on the other hand. Challenging their expertise      isn’t going to help. Demonstrate how the task requires the level of complexity they would          see themselves qualified to resolve. 


3. Negative emotions such as disappointment, distrust, anxiety and anger may be disrupting their wellbeing and motivation.


Take your time to sit with them somewhere private and listen without judgement. Ask them to tell you what is bothering them and don’t interrupt while they are speaking. Once they have opened up, their emotions will soften up, but the employee will also feel vulnerable. Be mindful of this. Summarise what they have said to check whether you’ve understood. If they feel you haven’t, ask them to explain again. Coach them – don't jump to offer advice. No one likes being told what to do, especially when upset. Instead, ask them what they think could help, how you could help, how they could reframe their thoughts about the situation and what actions they could take to improve the situation. 


4. Feeling out of control and not being able to define the challenge.


Ask them what they think the challenge is about and ask them to summarise it for you. Elicit their thoughts on what strategies they could try which might work. Encourage them to try them out. If the challenge involves others, make them consider ways of influencing the person by embracing their personality type and preferences for ways of communicating. Help them understand by applying this knowledge and skill, they can regain control of the situation.

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