Dealing with demotivation

I’ve been delivering Zoomly’s ‘How to motivate people’ workshop quite a bit lately and it often strikes me how some participants feel powerless to deal with demotivation in those they manage. First, I qualify the workshop title: ‘motivate’ actually isn’t something we do to people – it’s more about what can do for people. So there’s a great deal that managers can do to create a working environment that’s motivating for the people they manage,

And yet, right now there seems to be an outbreak of what one director at a lovely Zoomly client calls ‘title-itis’ – conferring and/or creating titles to retain valued employees. Some firms do this without significantly changing the role, or if they do, without matching the pay to the new responsibilities. This kind of management can feed perceptions of unfairness, which lead to demotivation – and for many, the exit. Almost half the UK workforce intends changing jobs in 2018.

If you’re concerned that those you manage are demotivated, try some or all of these 6 steps:

1.Treat people fairly
No ‘teacher’s pet’ or ‘my star player’. No favourites who seem to work to different rules to everyone else, get more opportunities and all the best jobs. ‘Who, me?’ Yes, you – if you’re human. Us humans use biases all the time – they’re often a handy shortcut, but we need to be aware of them – and we can take a more positive view of people who are like us, and cut much less slack for those who are different. Find out more about the downside of managers’ biases in this Harvard Business Review article: ‘When employees think the boss is unfair they’re more likely to disengage and leave’.

2. Handle conflict
Teams can quickly become toxic if differences in attitudes, behaviours and ways of working rub individuals up the wrong way. One employee’s ‘direct’ approach may be another’s ‘aggressive’. If this is happening in your team, don’t let resentment fester. Deal with it sooner rather than later. See my post ’10 ways to defuse conflict’ for practical tips on handling yourself in tricky situations.

3. Help people learn
As someone who provides learning workshops for employees, I strongly believe that participants’ managers are the vital variable when it comes to making learning stick – or letting it slip away. You can provide essential support before and after training – see this post for more. You can also help people learn as they do the job, day to day, by taking a more ‘coach’ approach in everyday work conversations. This means being mindful of how often you ‘ask’ or ‘tell’ people about tasks. Which is best? Which do you prefer – being told or being asked?

4. Give stretch assignments
No, not helping to plan the Christmas party. Stretch assignments take people out of their comfort (or even boredom) zone – but not into their stress / burnout zone. This isn’t about ‘throwing people in the deep end’; stretch assignments are set just above the employee’s competence. It may be a research project for new business, working in collaboration with a very different discipline, or at another location.

5. Consider secondments
Yes, you’ll lose someone from your team – at least in the short term. But your employer will gain (and retain) a more rounded employee. Global blue-chip employers provide ‘tours of duty’ to different departments and places to enable future leaders to fully understand all aspects of the business. It’s not beyond smaller firms to do the same. Long ago I was seconded part-time to a client’s marketing department, and it was a huge eye-opener. Secondments, within or beyond the firm, can be invaluable ways for employers to keep people motivated.

6. Celebrate the small stuff
This isn’t about popping champagne corks; it’s more about simply acknowledging when everyday things have worked well. For example, you can gather the team to share their ‘highlight of the week’ each Friday. It’s also about showing you’ve noticed when someone’s made a big effort; a few well-chosen words can make a big difference. So can letting everyone leave an hour (or more) early after a gruelling few days / weeks. For some teams, it has to be cake – how can your team celebrate?

You may find this blog post useful: ‘How can you motivate people when there’s no pay rise in sight?

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’ 


Image credits: Employee motivation-rueffelpix-DepositPhotos, Teamwork to success-jesadaphorn-Depositphotos

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