5 Ways to Motivate and Demotivate Employees

I’ll put it as simply as I can: There are an awful lot of unmotivated employees out there.  With a recent national study showing that less than 1 in 4 non-management employees is fully engaged (aka, fully motivated and productive), there is, shall we say, ample room for improvement.   And since an employee’s relationship with his or her direct manager is the single most important factor influencing engagement, the responsibility falls to management to improve motivational levels.  Accordingly, here are 5 easy ways to motivate – and demotivate – employees.

  1. Align individual economic interests with company performance

Okay, so this first one isn’t quite as easy as the others; it does take more doing at the highest management levels than the rest.   But incentive compensation programs that give employees at all levels of an organization a chance to benefit when a company prospers… can naturally boost motivation (always assuming solid individual performance in order for one to share in financial rewards).

  1. Take a genuine interest in the future path of an employee’s career

It does wonders for an employee’s attitude to believe that a manager really cares about where his or her career is headed.  Mentoring, coaching, suggesting additional training or coursework – all of these can be helpful to employees, and highly valued.

  1. Take a genuine interest in their work-life balance

To the extent that managers can offer some flexibility in schedules… and be understanding about family commitments, doctors’ appointments and so on – such sensitivity can be greatly appreciated.  Small gestures often make a big difference.

  1. Listen

This is an easy one: Just listen thoughtfully.   To employees’ ideas for job improvement… or their problems, concerns, frustrations, conflicts, dramas, kids’ issues, parents’ issues, grandparents’ issues – you name it, I’ve heard it.   Okay, so you do have to separate the wheat from the chaff and as a manager it can wear you out at times – but within reason, intelligent listening is an integral part of the job.  (If someone is a chronic malingerer, and carps for the sake of carping, just tell them to knock it off and get back to work.  But if someone is a good employee… well, people appreciate being heard.

  1. Do unto others as you would have done unto you

When it comes to treatment of subordinates, this is as basic as it gets.  But powerful too – still as valid today as it was a few thousand years ago.   It shows you respect your employees as individuals, and for the job they do.

Now about those easy ways to demotivate someone…

  1. Use your positional power as a manager in a way that shows you don’t fully respect your employees as individuals

This is the reverse of number 5 and it can be subtle.  Be chronically late for employee meetings.  Don’t return their messages.  Ignore their suggestions for how to improve operations.  These may seem like small things to an executive with weightier issues on his or her mind… but the reality is people resent them.  As noted above, small things can make a big difference in one’s feelings about work.

  1. Take credit for a project one of your employees actually did most of the work on

This is guaranteed to make people crazy.  Good managers are secure enough to give full credit where it’s due.

  1. Lose your temper

A nasty cousin of number 1) above.  It’s just human nature: People dislike being on the wrong end of this sort of thing.  Lost tempers are often followed by lost loyalty.

  1. Don’t stand up for your employees when under personal or organizational attack

Assuming the attacks aren’t merited – just personal or organizational nonsense (which has been known to occur) – your employees will want and expect you to back them up.  If you don’t, they’ll remember it.

  1. Be emotionally stingy

People like praise.  They want to know they’re doing a good job and are valued.  (Assuming they are doing a good job, of course.  If they’re not, then telling them they are does nothing except erode your credibility.)   But if they are doing well, simple words of encouragement are easy, inexpensive and can be motivational.

All of these suggestions (other than the first one on aligning economic interests) have the same cost: nothing.  And this list is by no means all-inclusive.  When it comes to motivating employees, you’re limited only by your imagination

This posting has been edited from a Victor Lipman Forbes article.

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