People generally don’t start new jobs feeling listless, disengaged, and unmotivated. A lot of the time, they start with relatively fresh minds and hearts, eager to apply themselves, learn, and grow. Over time, though, this initial motivation tends to dissipate and even plateau. While there are employee-specific causes for this, it also needs to be said that managers are sometimes directly responsible for this.
The truth is, it’s much easier to demotivate your employees than it is to spark their drive. A lot of the time, managers don’t even realise the effect that they’re having on their people. For that reason, it’s crucial to understand the different common managerial practices that often demotivate even the best employees; here are four such causes.
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All of us are sentient beings; we think, feel, communicate, and relate to others in different ways. One of the worst things you could do for your employees is to take away their autonomy. According to Dan Pink, this is one of the three pillars of intrinsic motivation, the other two being purpose and mastery.
A good manager understands that it’s not possible to catalyse employees’ growth without giving them space and authority. The more ownership people feel they have over their work, the likelier they are to push themselves and figure out ways to perform that suit themselves and others around them.
Conversely, bad managers suffocate people by trying to dictate everything down to the smallest details. The result is people questioning how much value they’re really adding to the company, and whether they’re even learning and growing in the first place.
As bad managers see it, nothing says “thank you” like a big fat bonus. Replace “bonus” with benefits, rewards, compensation, raises, or anything to that effect, and, to them, that’s all you need. The truth, though, is that there is (of course) a way to express your thanks in such a way that it motivates people–quite literally, by saying it.
Bosses who take credit for their employees’ work are universally and rightfully hated. However, it’s also important to realise that just because you aren’t stealing credit from your people doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job of giving recognition where it’s due.
Behavioural economist Dan Ariely, for instance, explains that ignoring people’s effort is just as demotivating as shredding up their work right in front of them. Ultimately, It sends the message, however untrue, that you don’t appreciate or value the work that they do.
Leadership is a lot like parenting in so many ways, particularly when it comes to neglect. When you neglect those under your care, you’re failing them by disregarding their need for guidance. Again, it shows that you don’t care enough about them or the work they do unless (and only when) someone royally messes up. This is what’s known as “neglect burnout.”
Research has even shown that having a boss who ignores you is worse than having one that treats you poorly. A 2015 study published in the Harvard Business Review, for example, reported that 8 out of the top 9 complaints people had against their leaders had to do with neglect.
Needless to say, toxic working environments make everyone miserable. Whether it’s bullying, difficult co-workers, or cutthroat office politics, it’s incredibly demotivating. People need to feel like they can lean on others for support; this is the essence of effective collaboration. Even in relatively “normal” workplaces, though, community plays a vital role in affecting employee demotivation.
According to behavioural psychologist Scott Geller, community is crucial in supporting self-motivation. You become who you surround yourself with; even the most reserved and introverted ones amongst us aren’t immune to the effects of community. Trying to motivate yourself when most of your co-workers are content with just getting by is an uphill battle.
Creating a good sense of community isn’t just about hiring the right people. Managers are responsible for setting the tone when it comes to team cultures. This isn’t just a one-off initiative; it requires constant check-ins over time.