Here’s a headline where a big number will stop and make you think: “Unhappy employees cost the U.S. about $550 billion per year.” For context, that’s about five versions of Jeff Bezos in cost because of unhappy, disgruntled, disengaged, or demotivated employees. We have talked about disengagement and work for years, and while the numbers have gotten slightly better in advanced nations, they haven’t gotten significantly better across the board. And within all that, here’s the interesting question: Most people enter new jobs with a sense of hope so what happens to derail that view? They just “won” the hiring process for that role, it’s a new opportunity, Day 1, new people, new manager, etc. It’s like the first day of school for adulthood. Anything is possible at this organization! They are ready to jump in and start. But over time, we know that employees lose that sense of wonder, burnout, demotivate, and eventually leave (not all employees, but many). We know that globally, many are not motivated by or at their job. So what happens between the point of entry and point of departure? Why do employees lose that motivation that made you want to hire them in the first place?
What does motivation at work matter?
It seems like an easy answer, right? Motivated employees are more productive than the ones who hate their jobs and surf the internet all day. They are better at goal-setting, personal development, and tend to have a strong overall work ethic. When a whole company is motivated, employee engagement, satisfaction, and corporate culture all receive a boost as well. It's incredibly hard for a business to meet its goals and stay competitive with a workforce who doesn't care. That means every company who wants to say ahead of the game needs to monitor how motivated their people are and take steps to protect that drive. There are various types of motivation to consider when creating a positive work environment. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is tied to the employee's own personal motivators such as self-esteem, work ethic, and commitment. Extrinsic motivation is easier are for employers to manipulate as it relates to the forces outside an employee that impacts behaviour and drive. Good managers should understand both motivational forces and take steps to ensure that hard work is rewarded in a way that will make the employee want to repeat their behaviour.
Why do people lose their motivation?
If motivation is so crucial to enjoying your work life, what causes employees to lose that energy? There are many reasons people develop a lack of motivation but here are a few to watch out for:
- Leadership change: A manager shift or losing a team member can impact how happy employees are at work.
- No flexible work: When employees have a lack of flexibility it drives up stress and decreases loyalty. Especially with older employees who may have child care or elder care needs, flexible work is important.
- Narrow management vision: You can over-focus on short-term objectives (“chasing shiny objects”) as opposed to longer-term goals and that creates pressure on a team or employee if it's a consistent trend.
- Lack of L&D: If there is little to no focus on career development, training, and opportunities for growth, the employer is sending a clear message that they don't care if the employee progresses or improves. Talk about being demotivating.
- Working too hard: Everyone needs to pitch in now and again to meet deadlines or complete projects but beware of overburdening good employees with too much for too long. If you need that level of ongoing help, either adjust the employee's compensation or hire more hands. Being overworked is the #1 reason for burnout.
- Hard to climb the ladder: Everyone wants to feel like their moving forward. Is there is a lack of transparency around promotions and other financial incentive decisions employees may feel like nothing they do will make a difference or be rewarded and the motivation drains away.
- Undervaluing staff: Hand in hand with being overworked is being undervalued. When people don't feel like their contributions matter, they are less inclined to produce good work.
- Bad management: Having an “absentee” manager is often a kiss of death to motivation. They can create an environment of alienation, isolation, and lack of communication which in turn drives down employee engagement.
- Office politics: We all know we have to play the game at work to some extent but too much conflict at work or too many internal power struggles or politics can make employees feel drained and stressed.
What can be done to keep employees motivated?
So if all these reasons are keeping your employees down, how do you correct them? Let's start with these 5 ideas.
- Be fair about compensation: You do not have to pay everyone as if they are a bigwig at Google. But you need to be fair within your local market. And if you are adding workload to someone excessively, well beyond the scope of their job description, they need additional compensation.
- Train managers better: In various studies, you’ll see that 50-60% of managers report having no managerial training, even though a managerial role is almost completely different from an employee role. Train managers on workload, capacity planning, having conversations (tough ones and check-in ones), email etiquette, and more. Allow managers some leeway in how they dole out flexibility to their team -- if certain people live hours away or are caregivers to someone else, perhaps all they need a different work from home schedule or different working hours than someone local with fewer responsibilities.
- Offer career development: You don’t need to finance MBAs, necessarily, but offer training, classes, conference attendance, etc. Show the employees you care about their development within your business and are ready to put real dollars at their disposal to help them progress.
- Within reason, be transparent on incentives: How are bonuses or holiday pay situations determined? Explain the factors as best you can (within any proprietary information concerns). How does tenure factor in? How are promotions decided? Is there a step progression for their role? If everything seems arbitrary and vague, employees will lose motivation. If it’s explained to them that they need to accomplish X, Y, and Z in order to gain something they want, they'll stay motivated longer and take action faster.
- More strategic planning: Make employees feel like it’s less about the task-checking busy work and urgent projects, and more about a long-term picture of what needs to be accomplished. What is the goal in 1 year? 3? 5? How does each functional area, and then each employee, factor into that goal? Answer these questions openly in all-hands meetings to give a sense of strategic buy-in and when appropriate, take feedback or ideas from your team so they feel involved in the process.
Keep putting in the effort
No one wants a bunch of demotivated zombies walking around the copiers and cubicle rows, right? You want employees who want to be there and want to pitch in. Identify some of the reasons that A-Players lose their shine, and then get to work on fixing those reasons. Say goodbye to procrastination and a lack of motivation and hello to hitting those end goals and targets when you think about what your employees are experiencing and how you can make their lives better. A little can go a long way and when employees are happy and motivated, everything else falls into place.
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