Posted on / Updated on / in Blog & Employee Morale & Employee Relations /

In the past few weeks, we have shared with you a few of our best practices for motivating employees and received some really good feedback.  We would be careless if we failed to look at practices that managers regularly engage in that actually decrease motivation levels, or demotivate employees.  Now obviously these demotivating practices are completely unintentional (we hope), but they do happen, quite a bit.

Managers typically don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “What can I do today to really annoy my employees? What will cause them to steam and boil all week instead of getting work done? How can I just kill their motivation levels?”

So What is the Problem with Demotivation?

Nevertheless, managers often engage in demotivating behaviors that they aren’t even aware of, or more simply put unintended consequences. Here are a few negative behaviors that managers regularly engage in that can send employees running out the door (maybe to your nearest competitor).

1.) Surprise! – Not all surprises are met with joy, especially surprises given in a performance review. In all my years as an HR practitioner, one of the most common complaints I hear from employees is that they thought they were doing a pretty good job. This is of course until their boss “trashed” them at review time.

Employees need to know where they stand all year long, not just once a year during a formal performance review. Practice continuous feedback. Managers should conduct periodic performance feedback meetings, whether formal or informal, letting employees know exactly what the expectations are, how they are performing these expectations, and what specifically they need to do to bring performance to an acceptable level.

The lesson here is to be transparent. Don’t let an employee believe they’re doing a good job if their work is unsatisfactory.

2.) Do What I Meant, Not What I Said! – Sometimes managers think they are communicating clearly, but what they say or how they say it leaves something to be desired. The use of clichés is a big no-no; sayings like “You need to be a team player,” “Think outside the box,” and others may sound good, but are really just vague, unclear, and do not provide clear direction.

There is a tactic used in conflict management quite often called “gaining agreement.” This essentially means to rephrase the concern your counterpart has.

For example, if a manager was to say, “I really need you to be more on top of your TPS reports this quarter” – an employee might gain agreement with this vague expression of direction by saying, “So what you’re saying is that you need me to provide more detail in my TPS reports and get them to you sooner?” By doing this a vague request becomes a specific request that both parties understand.

Encourage this of your staff. Ensure that you are clear on what is being communicated.  Let us know if you need management training and coaching in these areas. We’ll be glad to help.

3.) You Asked For It – This one is pretty straightforward. One sure way to de-motivate your employees is to take their opinions and input and then fail to act on them, or even worse, to not give them credit for an idea at all. Employees need to feel that their ideas, opinions and feelings are respected and listened to.  Once you stop listening to them, you can be sure that they will stop listening to you.

Often times showing a little bit of trust goes a long way. Is there a concern that you could use a second opinion about that someone on your staff may be able to help with?

4.) Playing Favorites – Managers should avoid treating certain employees more favorably than others. Once there is the perception of unfairness in the workplace, you might have a mutiny on your hands! Not only is morale affected in a negative way by favoritism, but it can lead to claims of discrimination as well, which can be very costly. Forget the actual settlement. The legal costs of fighting these cases even if they don’t go to litigation are enough to set a business back quite a bit.

Favoritism simply isn’t worth the risk.

Ask yourself when dealing with your favorite employee “Would I do the same for the employee I least like in the work group?”  If you can answer “yes,” then you know you can treat employees equally and alike. In other words, leave emotion at the door.

So Let’s Review The Four Demotivating Behaviors Listed Above

  • Provide constant and efficient feedback
  • Communicate clearly, and be sure to gain agreement
  • Ask for and accept input from your employees
  • Avoid favoritism

Ask yourself if you do any of these things with your employees, and be honest with yourself. Poor performance from your staff looks bad on you too.

There is actually one more very significant behavior to list, which is quite important to say the least, but this article is getting long and we want to give that one a post of its own.

Can anyone guess what it is? If you think you know post it in the comments. We’ll give you a shout out in the next post if you get it right. Be on the lookout!

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.