5 ways you can help demotivated employees

If you manage a team then there’ll come a point, if it hasn’t happened already, when one (or maybe more) of your team lose their mojo. Where once you had a motivated, sparky individual you now have someone who is contributing less and just seems a bit flat.

Whereas before they’d go above and beyond, whether that was helping other colleagues or adding something extra special to a report, they’re now doing the bare minimum – if that. It might be that they’re less communicative in one-to-one and team meetings and it’s having an effect on the rest of the team. Or perhaps you’ve found out they’re looking for another job. Or perhaps the quality of their work has taken a massive downward turn.

All you do know is that this person who gave so much to you and the rest of the team seems different. And you can’t quite put your finger on why. You don’t want to lose them but you’re not sure how to help them.

Here are five things you can do to help a person get back on track

#1 Don’t automatically assume it’s about money

When I run workshops on performance management, I do a quick hands-up poll asking managers what they think the number one thing is that motivates people at work. Pretty much every time, the majority of managers will say “Money”. Yet, as Jason Jennings and Laurence Houghton state in their book, It’s not the BIG that eat the SMALL, it’s the FAST that eat the SLOW,

“Numerous studies have demonstrated that when people love their jobs, the amount of money they earn is fourth, fifth, sixth on the list of what’s important to them. Alternatively, when people hate their jobs, money is predictably number one”

#2 Examine your management style

In a study involving more than 30,000 employees worldwide, researchers examined the impact of managers who had an autonomous and supportive style of leadership. The research found that this style supports greater intrinsic motivation, workplace well-being, job satisfaction, committed and loyal employees, and higher work engagement. People working for these kinds of leaders are also less likely to suffer from burnout.

Caroline Webb summarises it best, in How to have a Good Day:

“…autonomy is one of the fundamental motivating forces in life. Give someone space and responsibility, and they feel competent and respected; take it away and their enthusiasm collapses.”

Just as micromanagement can be stifling and turn a previously motivated, high performer into a shadow of their former selves; too little management can be just as damaging. Victor Lipman wrote a great article about this in the Harvard Business Review.

#3 Help the person re-connect with the impact of what they do

Task significance plays a big part in how motivated we feel in our work. A study by Professor Adam Grant looked at what impact reminding people of why their jobs were important would have on motivation and productivity. The research found that previously unmotivated employees were re-motivated by helping them recognise their connection to touching, personal stories they read.

In their book, The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, shared the findings of their research project exploring the day-to-day experiences of more than 200 professionals across seven organisations. When they analysed the 12,000+ days’ worth of data they found that of all the things that can boost motivation during a workday, the single most important was making progress in meaningful work.

#4 Explore whether their role can be changed in some way

Job crafting focuses on changes individuals can make in the task or relationships related to their work which can help them define the content and value of what they do (meaning) and who they are at work (identity). Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton identified three main types of job crafting:

  1. Task crafting – such as changing the number of work tasks and/or the way they do them;
  2. Relational crafting – such as changing the amount of control someone has over interpersonal interactions at work; and
  3. Cognitive crafting – which is about changing how a person views their job

In a 2018 study led by Hai-Jiang Wang, researchers looked at the relationship between job crafting and how attached someone felt to their work. They were particularly interested in whether this relationship would be stronger during tough times, such as when a person was rated as a poor performer. In a study involving nearly 300 people, the researchers found that job crafting is positively related to work attachment, such as feelings of job ownership and organisational commitment. The researchers also found that low performers and insecure job-holders develop greater work attachment through job crafting than high-performers and secure job-holders.

#5 Find out whether there are learning needs

Gretchen Spreitzer first came up with the concept of psychological empowerment in the mid-1990s and it still has relevance now. Psychological empowerment has four main elements to it:

The meaning from the work we do + The tangible impact of the work we do + Our levels of competence to do our work + The level of autonomy we have to do our work

We’ve already looked at meaning, impact and autonomy, leaving the final bit of the puzzle – whether the person has the skill or knowledge to do what you need them to do. In many organisations, roles change over time. For example, new responsibilities get tacked on during organisational change yet more often than not, this happens without thinking about the support the person needs to successfully take on this new work.

It’s also important to ask yourself whether you’re creating a healthy, safe learning environment. John G Nicholls talked about this when he came up with the concept of a mastery motivational climate. This kind of work environment sees success and failure based around co-operation, helping, learning and effort. In other words, a failure to deliver something isn’t necessarily a true failure if the person has collaborated, put the effort in and learned from the experience. Therefore, not having a blunt, automatic punitive approach is key to preventing failure from being a demotivating thing.

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

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