Practical ways to motivate your employees

It’s quick and easy to demotivate someone. In contrast, it takes time and effort to build motivation. If you have demotivated employees, first look in the mirror.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

We all go through times of high motivation, when we’re bursting with energy and enthusiasm. We also go through times when we’re depressed and demotivated.

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Studies show that most people respond to motivational and demotivational forces in more or less the same way. This means that it’s possible to come up with strategies to motivate the demotivated and encourage the motivated.

Mary Kay Ash, founder of the multinational cosmetics giant that bears her name, is credited with saying, “There are only two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

In principle she’s right; these are crucially important motivators. In practice, however, the process is a little more complicated than simply trotting out a few words of recognition and praise. It’s quick and easy to demotivate people; it takes much more time and effort to motivate them.

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While ‘spontaneous motivation’ is stronger in some people than in others, everyone has the inbuilt capacity to be motivated.

Just think of the morose, demotivated worker who, on the weekend, becomes an energetic supporter of his or her favourite sports team.

If you can unlock that latent level of motivation at work, you’ll move mountains. Until that day, it’s important to remember that building a motivated team is often more about not demotivating than creating motivation.

Common demotivators
With this in mind, here are some of the most frequently seen causes of demotivation in the workplace:

  • A lack of recognition and praise
    Catch someone doing something right every day; this should be every manager’s mantra.
  • Petty and senseless bureaucracy
    This slows everyone down in their jobs. Take the risk and give employees the freedom to do their jobs their way.
  • The challenge has gone out of the job, and boredom has set in
    Few people remain motivated in a mind-numbing, repetitive job, regardless of its importance to the company. Try to introduce new challenges, or move the employee into a new area; the change alone will help.
  • Lack of potential for personal growth
    Creatively seek avenues where the person concerned, subject to his or her capacity and the company’s interests, of course, can further develop skills and knowledge, and grow as a result.
    Remember, though, that if employees return to work after a stimulating training experience and are fired up with new ideas, you need to listen to these! Pouring cold water on them will defeat the object, and demotivate your staff. Good managers always follow up employee training by encouraging implementation of newly discovered methods.
  • Public correction of an employee
    Whether spoken or simply signalled by body language, this is a potent and long-lasting demotivator, and extremely bad management. No matter how frustrated you feel with the employee’s poor performance, always rebuke the person in private.
  • Bad leadership
    There are many examples of bad leadership that are guaranteed to demotivate employees. Here are four: allowing senior managers to set a bad example, not being transparent about company objectives or communicating them poorly, tolerating poor performance, and showing favouritism.
  • Problems at home
    Often the cause of the demotivation is not at work, but at home. Marital discord, debt, the illness of a loved one and many other factors can affect an employee’s performance. And very often, home-based causes of demotivation such as these are overlooked. While these factors may not be of your making, it is very much in your interest, as a manager, to help remove or mitigate such problems if possible.

Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant with 30 years’ farming experience.