7 ways managers motivate – and demotivate – employees



Few things are as costly and disruptive as managers who kill morale. Demotivated employees underperform until their first opportunity to walk out of the door.

It’s scary to consider just how prevalent a lack of motivation is. In fact, Gallup research shows that 70 percent of employees consider themselves disengaged at work. Organizations know how important it is to have motivated, engaged employees, but most fail to hold managers accountable for making it happen.

And when they don’t, the bottom line suffers.

Research from the University of California found that motivated employees were 31 percent more productive, had 37 percent higher sales and were three times more creative than demotivated employees. They were also 87 percent less likely to quit, according to a Corporate Leadership Council study of more than 50,000 people.

Gallup research shows that 70 percent of employee motivation is influenced by managers. In other words, employees don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.

Making Things Worse

Before managers can create motivated, engaged employees, there are some critical things that they need to stop doing. What follows are some of the worst behaviors that managers need to eradicate from the workplace.

Making stupid rules. Companies need to have rules — that’s a given — but they don’t have to be short-sighted, lazy attempts at creating order. Whether through overzealous attendance policies or taking away employees’ frequent flyer miles, unnecessary rules drive people crazy. When good employees feel like big brother is watching, they’ll find somewhere else to work.

Letting accomplishments go unrecognized. It’s easy to underestimate the power of a pat on the back, especially with top performers who are intrinsically motivated. Everyone likes kudos, especially those who work hard and give their all. Rewarding individual accomplishments shows that you’re paying attention. Managers need to communicate with their people to find out what makes them feel good (for some, it’s a raise; for others, it’s public recognition) and then reward them for a job well done. With top performers, this will happen often if you’re doing it right.

Hiring and promoting the wrong people. Good, hard-working employees want to work with like-minded professionals. When managers don’t do the hard work of hiring good people, it’s a major de-motivator for those stuck working alongside them. Promoting the wrong people is even worse. When you work your tail off only to get passed over on a promotion that’s given to someone who undeserving, it’s a massive insult. No wonder it makes good people leave.

Treating everyone equally. While this tactic works with school children, the workplace ought to function differently. Treating everyone equally shows your top performers that no matter how high they perform, they will be treated the same as the bozo who does nothing more than punch the clock.

Tolerating poor performance. It’s said that in jazz bands, the band is only as good as the worst player. The same goes for a company. When you permit weak links to exist without consequence, they drag everyone else down, especially your top performers.

Going back on their commitments. Making promises to people places you on a fine line between making them very happy and watching them walk out the door. When you uphold a commitment, you prove yourself to be trustworthy and honorable (two very important qualities in a boss). But when you disregard your commitment, you come across as slimy, uncaring and disrespectful. After all, if a boss doesn’t honor his or her commitments, why should everyone else?

Being apathetic. More than half of those who leave their jobs do so because of their relationship with their boss. Smart companies make certain their managers know how to balance being professional with being human. These are the bosses who celebrate an employee’s success, empathize with those going through hard times and challenge people, even when it hurts. Bosses who fail to really care will always have high turnover rates. It’s impossible to work for someone each a day when they aren’t personally involved and don’t care about anything other than your productivity.

Making Things Better

Once managers have eradicated the seven negative behaviors that demotivate their best people, it’s time to replace them with the following seven behaviors that make people love their jobs.

Follow the platinum rule. The Golden Rule, treat others as you want to be treated, has a fatal flaw: it assumes that all people want to be treated the same way. It ignores the fact that people are motivated by vastly different things. One person loves public recognition, while another loathes being the center of attention. The Platinum Rule, treat others as they want to be treated, corrects that flaw. Good managers are great at reading other people, and they adjust their behavior and style accordingly.

Be strong without being harsh. Strength is an important quality in a leader. People will wait to see if a leader is strong before they decide to follow his or her lead. People look for courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show strength themselves when their leader does the same. A lot of leaders mistake domineering, controlling and otherwise harsh behavior for strength. They think that taking control and pushing people around will somehow inspire a loyal following. Strength isn’t something you can force on people; it’s something you earn by demonstrating it time and again in the face of adversity. Only then will people trust that they should follow you.

Remember that communication is a two-way street. Many managers think that they’re great communicators, not realizing that they’re only communicating in one direction. Some pride themselves on being approachable and easily accessible, yet don’t really hear the ideas that people share with them. Some managers don’t set goals or provide context for the things they ask people to do, and others never offer feedback, leaving people wondering if they’re more likely to get fired than promoted.

Be a role model, not a preacher. Great leaders inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words. Many leaders say that integrity is important to them, but great leaders walk their talk by demonstrating integrity every day. Harping on people all day long about the behavior you want to see has a tiny fraction of the impact you achieve by demonstrating that behavior yourself.

Be transparent. Good managers are transparent and forthcoming about company goals, expectations and plans. When managers try to sugarcoat, mask or euphemize in order to make things seem better than they are, employees see right through it.

Be humble. Few things kill motivation as quickly as arrogance. Great bosses don’t act as though they’re better than you, because they don’t think that they’re better than you. Rather than being a source of prestige, they see their leadership position as bringing them additional accountability for serving those who follow them.

Take a genuine interest in employees’ work-life balance. Nothing burns good employees out quite like overworking them. It’s so tempting to work your best people hard that managers frequently fall into this trap. Overworking good employees is perplexing to them; it makes them feel as if they’re being punished for their great performance. Overworking employees also is counterproductive. New research from Stanford shows that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and productivity drops off so much after 55 hours that you don’t get anything out of the extra work.

If you cultivate the characteristics above and avoid the demotivators, you’ll become the kind of boss that people remember for the rest of their
careers.   ■

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the cofounder of TalentSmart® the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. To learn more, visit www.talentsmart.com.


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