When demotivation happens, it’s obvious. There are obstacles to success, the failures are real and the smell of indifference is everywhere.
I’ve witnessed it across workplaces where there is a new hire burst with enthusiasm, talent and drive. They bring accountability, savviness and initiative to the role. Within weeks they fundamentally look to improve the process of saving time and cost. They share their insights and suggestions with their manager and colleagues. However, with every new idea for improvement, they get knocked down over and over by the killer.
It’s the same old line: "It’s not something the business is pursuing at this time". Alternatively, you might hear the throw-away line "It’s out of my hands, so how about I get back to you?".
The killer has won and the once brilliant hire either quits or worse, they quit and stay.
The hard truth to swallow is the number one killer of employee motivation is the employee’s manager. As Gallup revealed in the State of the American Manager Report, managers have the most significant impact on engagement. 70% of employee’s motivation is influenced by their manager. The problem is that most managers don’t get hired because they know how to manage people. They land the role because they were thriving in their previous position or because of their field expertise.
Despite this, you can be the one to help a demotivated employee if you understand what is the cause behind their inattention and provide channels and opportunities for feedback.
When visiting the scene of the crime, beware of these four pitfalls. In the Harvard Business Review’s article Richard Clark, a professor at the University of Southern California and Bror Saxberg, VP of Learning Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, came up with a model to understand and diagnose the problems of motivation at work.
"This task doesn’t interest me", a person can’t associate any meaning in the task they are performing.
"I’m not sure I can pull this off". A person can’t see how they can achieve the task. A slightly different signal to look out for is the employee who has an exaggerated self-belief. "This is tedious, and I can do it with my eyes closed".
An employee is consumed with anger, bitterness, depression.
"I might have missed that" or "I can’t get it done because I’m waiting on Operations". This type of motivational sign is when an employee can’t pinpoint the reason they’re unsuccessful with a task or they blame outside forces for not realising success.
A great manager can navigate these motivation pitfalls and find solutions. An incompetent manager will only exacerbate the situation.
It’s no surprise that the damage bill of demotivated employees is hurting business. An article in Forbes calculated the cost based on Gallup’s numbers. A disengaged employee costs a company around $3,400 for every $10,000 of wages, or a whopping 34 percent.
Other costs are harder to measure. Demotivation is like an infectious disease it contaminates teams causing unnecessary friction. It sends the wrong signal at work to individuals and groups that poor behaviour is acceptable.
The respect and trust of management will suffer if they fail to address the problem with the employee and hold them accountable. Furthermore, an apathetic customer-facing employee hurts your bottom line and brand because they negatively influence the emotional purchasing decisions of your customers.
There are many ways to motivate staff, but these two examples from John Deere and Dropbox stand out. One of the great examples of how a company can inspire employees is that they think in terms of ‘moments’ across an employees journey and how they can be enhanced.
John Deere in Asia was having a tough time keeping employees and motivating them. The staff could not associate meaning to the work. So they designed the 'First Day Experience'. It’s well worth watching the Stanford Business School professor discuss this.
On the first day at work, you are greeted in the lobby with a flat-screen that displays 'Welcome Mary’. You’re taken to your desk and surprised by a six-foot-tall banner to inform everyone that there is a new hire. Everyone stops by to say hi and chat. As you log into your computer and begin your onboarding process, you are greeted by the following:
"Welcome to the most important work you’ll ever do". You receive a welcome video message from the CEO. On your desk, you are given a model of the first plough created in 1837 with a card about what this plough represented to farmers.
At lunch, you are taken off-site with a group to get to know you and the projects.
Later your senior manager makes plans and books a one on one lunch for the following week.
They call this moment a 'Peak Moment’ in the employee's journey. It was such a success that it was rolled out across other global offices. If you look across the employee’s journey you can design more peak moments. Including celebrating reaching the number of customer resolutions, the number of sales, leads generated, etc.
Dropbox, on the other hand, uses regular goal reviews to help motivate employees. The engineering teamwork work on 6-week sprints and complete complex projects. Dropbox’s board reviews reports on the teams’ overall objectives every month, which offers the chance to assess what is working and what issues are coming up.
The biggest surprise is that the expectation is that the team will only accomplish 70% of their goals. The rest are "stretch goals” that are designed to inspire. Stretch goals don’t work for everyone. It’s worth remembering that some people thrive and others prefer a more consistent sustainable approach.
The way to motivate employees will differ based on the values, resources and skill of the company. What matters is that it’s not a one time fix, it requires a consistent long term approach which includes applying everyday moments of recognition, incentive and bringing meaning to the work that people do.
Here are some practical tips any manager can take to help an employee that has become disengaged. First, you’ll want to build the rapport and regenerate trust. Then model the attitudes and behaviour you expect to see in your teams.
Use the word ‘together’ when you assign tasks
Be visible and open so people are more inclined to feel comfortable having a conversation with you. Being visible isn’t just in person. If your business uses collaboration tools be there to interact with your team members using discussions or social networking tools. Let your team know they can easily reach you. Ask for regular feedback, input and ideas from your team.
Create an Onboarding Experience for new employees where you create task videos for them to view. Make them feel welcome and let them know together you’re looking forward to them starting their new role.
Use the word ‘together’ more often when you assign a task to individuals. It signals a sense of collective purpose. In a study featured in HBR, researchers found when they assign tasks to individuals, and those individuals were told they would be working on it together, they solved more problems and felt less fatigued.
Try these 10 engagement ideas to further motivate employees.
Thankfully business is moving from the dreaded annual review process to providing continuous feedback loops so employees can correct their course if needed. Using a combination of face-to-face and digital tools, teams can now model the desired behaviour you want to see and lead by example. Centricminds Intranet software allows you to share feedback with individuals or with the whole team on initiatives, tasks or files.