Three ways for managers to demotivate employees -- guaranteed!

Whenever we at Fortune talk about how to motivate staff, the first point we stress is that managers never actually directly motivate their employees. Motivation is internal, it's personal – it's either in your people or it isn't... and if they don't have that spark or drive, managers cannot synthetically put it there! However, by creating an environment or climate where people's natural motivations can come to the fore, managers can strongly and positively influence and increase staff motivation.

Unfortunately whilst they can't motivate, many managers appear to find it quite easy to demotivate employees, often unintentionally; we see it in businesses every day. Left unaddressed, managers who demotivate their people create an environment of negativity and resentment that cripples productivity.

There are countless ways managers can demotivate people. Here's three common examples:

  1. Falling into the "Hands On" vs "Heads On" trap

    When promoted into management, new managers move from a predominantly "hands on" role of doing work to more of a "heads on" role of overseeing others do the work. But when thrust into the 'unknown', managers will often regress to their comfort zone, to what's comfortable for them. This is understandable because the reason they were promoted out of their old role was as a result of being good at it! However when managers demonstrate how great they are at doing their people's work, they're usually taking an ego trip at the expense of their people: it may make them feel better but it leaves their people thinking, I'm not you and I don't want to be you.

    It's worth noting that the root of this problem often lies not with the newly promoted manager, but with those in more senior management roles who haven't provided the necessary support, tools and development to guide the transition of new managers from their previous "hands on" role to the new "heads on" role.
  2. Creating task interference

    As we covered with some example in an earlier blog, task interference occurs when someone or something interferes with the desire or ability to perform. For example, we often find that managers have a blind spot or false view that just because their people have a job, they are expected to be able to do it as is, without additional training or support. This can be especially true with new employees who may come into a new position with the perfect set of skills. But just because they may have the right experience for the job, a new hire is still incompetent about how you operate. Therefore, unless their manager provides them with the necessary guidance to succeed, they're productivity and likelihood of success is strongly diminished.
  3. Tearing down people's perceptions of themselves

    You may read this description and think there couldn't be a more obvious example of a demotivating tactic, that no one in their right mind would do it. But it happens more than you may think! You see, before performing any task, people must believe that the value they'll receive from completing it is equal to or greater than how the perceptions they have of themselves. When this isn't the case, managers have two options to close this gap and help their people accomplish the task: increase the perceived value of completing the task or decrease the employee's perception of themself.

    In what may be based in moments of ignorance or desperation, some managers actually try to bring their people down! They may say something along the lines of, "I know you think this task is below you, but let me tell you how fortunate you are to have this job. I could find a replacement for you tomorrow and not lose a moment's sleep over it." Clearly this is an attempt to motivate by fear, and for some managers with certain people it will net short-term results. But longer-term (and that's about 3 weeks), it's a crippling demotivator and causes significant resentment. Furthermore, it defeats the entire purpose to which a manager should be dedicated, and that's to build people up.

From these three examples alone, we can see how easy it is to demotivate employees. And because many actions that result in demotivation are done with the best of intentions – perhaps a manager offers to work with an employee so "you can see how it's done" or the manager doesn't put a new employee through training because "I don't want to waste your time" – managers often have no idea of the damage they're causing until their employee leaves the company. It's why we so frequently hear that employees quit managers, not companies.

Ask yourself: Are my managers doing anything to demotivate my employees, on purpose or unknowingly? Are any of them motivating by fear? Are we creating an atmosphere of resentment? If you think they are, or if you're not sure, give us a call or send us an inquiry. We'd be happy to discuss your situation.

Posted: 2/22/2011 7:59:00 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
Filed under: management, motivation
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