The 10 Biggest Killers of Employee Motivation

Imagine the last time you were happy and content at work.

Hopefully it’s not once in a year type of thing, but let’s imagine it was two days ago when you finally finished a long-lasting project that had been keeping you up all night.

Now imagine the feeling and motivation this happiness gave you. At that particular moment, it probably felt like you could conquer any challenge and had the motivation to move mountains. Most probably, your productivity was at its peak. No wonder; a happy employee is also a productive employee.

I am sorry to burst the bubble, something happened that killed your motivation. Unfortunately sooner rather than later, it will come and take you back to the starting point.

Usually one of these 10 motivation killers will find a way to sneak up on your happiness (or your employee’s happiness) and kick it right to the floor.

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The 10 worst motivation killers

So, which kind of motivation killers am I talking about?

  1. Inadequate rewards. Not being paid what you’re worth? That just — and let’s be honest — sucks. Sure, the clear understanding of what you’re worth might vary between you and your manager, you still should be entitled to fair reward system. Even 26 percent of highly engaged employees would jump ship for a 5 percent pay increase. One possible solution is to define an open rewards system, so each party knows what to expect.
  2. Awful office space. Ever seen pictures of the Google offices and dreamed about working there? Well congratulations, because you’re one of millions. Jokes aside, our office environment has a huge impact on our productivity and well-being. Did you know that the rapidly spreading trend of open offices report 62 percent more sick days? Perhaps it’s time to bring back the traditional offices, or rearrange current ones.
  3. No self-development. The Internet might be almighty, but your self-imposed pressure isn’t. You need the opportunity to grow because if you’re not learning, you’re falling behind. Therefore, managers need to offer inspirational and educational training and stop looking at it as just a business expense.
  4. Inefficient collaboration. On average, 39 percent of people feel their input isn’t appreciated. In a situation like this, how long are you motivated to give your best? Chances are that sooner, rather than later, your performance will suffer. Improving internal communication and collaboration should be on top of manager’s priority list.
  5. Too many negative people. It’s unfortunate that negativity spreads so much quicker that positivity. What is more, 24 percent of actively disengaged people spread their negativity to co-workers. Walking down the street, you might be able to avoid grouchy people, but at work, you need to collaborate with them.
  6. Fear of failure. Did you know that Warren Buffett was first rejected by Harvard University? There is not one person that has had a straightforward road to success. It’s how you recover and learn from your failures that make you stronger and more successful. Staying in the comfort zone might be, well, comfortable, but it’s not sustainable in the long run.
  7. Lack of clear goals. It’s hard to give your best if you don’t fully understand the goal. How do you know what to focus on? Which project should gain more attention? Which tasks should be handled right away? To avoid getting stuck, try the method Google is using – OKR’s Objectives and Key Results. Keep the objectives publicly under everyone’s nose.
  8. Micromanaging bosses. Here’s a fun fact: 38 percent of people would rather do unpleasant activities, like opt for more work or sit next to someone who eats noisily, rather than sit next to their micromanaging boss. Today’s workforce demands more autonomy, empowerment and inspiration to keep their motivation high and performance glooming.
  9. Useless meetings. On average, office workers around the globe waste 3,8 hours a week on unproductive meetings. What a waste it is. Although it might not be reasonable to start avoiding meetings, it is reasonable to start putting more effort in making them productive. Using a team meeting checklist might come handy while preparing for another meeting.
  10. Time wasting. Chances are you are willing to put in more hours if you felt your time and input are appreciated. But when the manager sends another email, makes a new appointment, or share another piece of irrelevant information, the motivation quickly falls. Time is such a scarce resource that wasting it should be illegal.

What kills your motivation at work and how do you handle it?

Külli Koort is a fierce proponent of achieving more with less frenetic effort. That’s why she works at Weekdone, a start-up that builds progress report software for managers who wish to gain more insights to their teams. You can connect with her on Twitter.


14 Comments on “The 10 Biggest Killers of Employee Motivation

  1. One of the biggest de-motivators I’ve experienced over the years not mentioned in the excellent article above is managers or executives who grab all the perks – they’re the ones that go on the long golf outings, attend the lavish dinners, are first to take anything that comes in to the office and generally get the most benefit out of bonuses and the like as well; it creates a ‘culture of greed’ and can really make employees skeptical and unwilling to go that extra yard!

    1. Helping themselves to all the goodies first before taking care of their subordinates is not encouraging to people.

    2. That just shoves, “Hey look, I’m better than you.” right up in their face. We cannot accept gifts of any kind, okay, maybe a pen, and that cut most of that behavior out.

  2. A great re-enforcer article. I have to add the boss that does not recognize a job done extraordinarily well done for fear that one would build high expectations when it comes time for their annual performance review. The forced bell curve dictates your fate and you need a boss who is willing to be your advocate. Be the advocate for your personnel when it is warranted. Don’t just sit there and not speak up when your peer is talking up their staff for increasing productiviy by moving their trash cans to the opposite side of their desks.

  3. I personally think that recognition is ‘up there’ for me. Some people (not all) are absolutely motivated by being recognised for their contribution and achievements. If this is not happening, they’d be happy to seek it elsewhere!
    I’ve also found that many people get teir motivation from being given crystal clear understanding on what is happening around them, what they are expected to achieve – short and long term, and how it needs to be achieved. If you want people to be accountable and responsible, they should be consulted with and invovled. A good friend and colleague taught me that – Thanks Caroline Ford.
    We have to be careful about the self-development piece too, it’s right that it will need to be offered by employers (with full commitment) but cannot be forced upon people as something that’s been designed as a package by the line manager – who beleive they know what development their staff require! Encouragement to develop and involvement by the employee in what that development looks like is critical.
    Employees need to see the value for themselves and want it – otherwise it won’t happen. If it does happen, it’s likely to fail!

  4. In my opinion, motivation is tricky subject in itself there are 2 motivation myths 1st is that you can motivate other people and second is that people aren’t motivated well neither is true

    we all want to motivate ordinary people to become extraordinary however the truth is you can not motivate anyone you can only provide the atmosphere/climate/environment for motivation, the second statement saying “people aren’t motivated” isn’t true either people are motivated they just aren’t always motivated to do what you want them to do.

    1. It’s funny. I hear this term “extraordinary” a lot lately as well as companies wanting “superstars” or “rock stars.” Well, even if someone IS a good worker and motivated employee (as in motivated to do the best job they can), it may still not mean they are EXTRA-ordinary. The truth is that most humans are just ordinary. I believe people can still be motivated to do good work and try for better than good, but sometimes the expectations are just not realistic.

  5. The absence of simple acts of appreciation of staff input: thank you, handshake, small handwritten notes and hugs go a long way to demotivate employees. A boss who can practise these humble acts seriously motivates his/their team.

  6. I would like to add another motivation killer: inadequate preparation, information and employee support when an organization faces major structural changes and resulting staff turnover. I am most familiar with non-profit organizations where staff tends to give 110% for much less than they could earn with other non-profits.
    Personally, I see change as opportunity to resolve long time problems, learn new skills, and the experience new challenges. I have served as a change champion in a variety of non-profit and for-profit organizations. A major teaching hospital where I worked in the 1980’s turned all staff meetings in all disciplines and at all levels into focus groups to help staff understand the issues and share their views of the problems. Change champions in all disciplines and levels were identified and had input into changes, provided preparation, information and employee support when this hospital went through major changes to respond to changes in Medicare. The were no secrets and no surprises.
    The result was very little staff turn-over and a highly motivated staff to continue to provide highest quality patient care with less money and less time. One suggestion was to hire future staff members across disciplines and levels who identified themselves as open to change that would certainly be on the horizon during their tenure. This model continues in this hospital to this day. It is consistently voted as one of the best places to work in our city.

  7. Not even close to horrible **M HR policies…lying about ranking, continuous layoffs with no back fill, 1% (or less) raises, distrust up and down the chain, lack of clear goals ( real example: “should we focus more on quality or schedule?” ans: ” both”), disconnected execs, incompetent execs, too many execs, micromanagement from a micro-manager, and on and on.

  8. People don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses. I think “bad boss” should be #1 on this list. People will abide with other things, but a bad boss will have them running quickly. If you have high turnover, look at who is managing. Believe me, it is seldom done!

  9. People in organizations must consider how they would like to be treated then treat each other that way. The word ‘respect’ immediately comes to mind – self respect as reflected in appearance and mutual respect as reflected in holding a door for a colleague. We want to be treated in ways that make us feel positive feelings about ourselves –happier, smarter, friendlier, etc. We all like to be put up rather than down.

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