How To Reboot An Unmotivated Employee


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While researching this subject I read a number of articles that seemed to assume that unmotivated employees are lazy or a ‘bad hire’, this is certainly NOT always the case. Even the best hires can become demotivated due to many influences and, just because an employee isn’t feeling 100% motivated, it doesn’t mean that they’re lazy. In both cases however, leaders need to be aware of the signs and be in a position to assist and re-energise an employee. Not dealing with the situation can lead to a more widespread problem, loss of revenue and productivity.

What can cause employees to lose motivation?

demotivated-staffSimply treating employees with respect and displaying that the business values them as people, as well as resources, you’ll reduce the likelihood of motivation levels falling within the workforce.

Leaders need to make time to simply talk with their teams and be aware of what can demotivate staff.
Feeling low and unmotivated can cause an employee to become distant and quiet; if they know that they can talk to their manager, then the problem can be discussed and improved or overcome.

There are a number of factors that can be attributed to a demotivated member of staff. These include:

  • No sense of career progression
  • Boredom
  • Lack of confidence in management or company decisions
  • Not feeling appreciated
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Micromanagement
  • Unsuitable working environment
  • Lack of communication and transparency from management


What are the signs that an employee is unmotivated?

Every leader within a business should have (or learn) the ability to spot potential problems with their subordinates. Building relationships with employees is an important element of any manager’s role and helps to identify when something isn’t right with a member of the team.

Once a problem is identified it can be dealt with for the good of both the employee and the business.

Some of the tell-tale signs of demotivation are:

  • Lack of focus in work-related tasks
  • Increased absence
  • Increased breaks or time away from their desk
  • Increased time to start working after arriving in the office
  • General change in demeanour and mood towards colleagues and/or peers
  • Inappropriate comments or remarks
  • A ‘distantness’ from colleagues


What are the effects of an unmotivated employee?

As well as affecting the productivity of the particular employee, the feeling of demotivation can also affect those around them and the general atmosphere within a department or office. Being distracted and distracting others , as a result of being unmotivated, is a common trait of someone who’s not motivated.

Demotivated employees may also take more personal time off during working hours, such as appointments at the doctors, dentist or to ‘collect someone’, etc. This time off is not usually taken as annual leave and so is costing businesses money and time.
If the employee(s) in question is client-facing, then the problem isn’t contained within the office environment, which can cause problems with the relationship between the business and its customers.

Brand image and reputation as an employer are extremely important factors for businesses success; not dealing with employee issues can cause serious damage to the perception of a company’s image.

What can you do to support and improve motivation?


1) Simply ask what the problem is

Avoiding an issue or uncomfortable conversation isn’t the way to deal with the situation. Asking an employee if they’re OK, and if there’s anything you can do to help, will be appreciated and is often enough to begin resolving any problems. As a manager you have a duty of care towards your team, establishing a strong relationship with them enables you to have open and honest discussions, which will help deal with problems as soon as they arise.
The problem may be that an employee’s workload is too much or unrealistic for them to complete by a specific deadline. If this is the case, then the issue could be easily resolved through delegation or altering the milestones.

If you build a good rapport with the individuals in your department then, should you need to pose a direct question regarding a problem, it won’t be awkward and a problem in its own right.

2) Show your employees that you’re genuinely interested in their wellbeing and career progression

If your employees respect you and know that you take a genuine interest in their wellbeing and aspirations, then they’ll be more confident that their efforts will not go unnoticed. Displaying a real and honest desire to help your subordinates progress will encourage them to produce work that they’re proud of, and want you to be just as impressed with.

Regular ‘catchups’ with a manager are a great way for both parties to stay aware of each other’s projects, ideas and any potential problems. These mini-meetings also help the manager/subordinate relationship and build a cohesive team culture.

3) Set clear goals

If an employee knows and fully understands what it is they’re working towards, then it’s easier for them to plan and manage their time in order to achieve a goal. Not being given clear milestones and an ultimate goal is confusing and can appear pointless and an unproductive use of time.
By setting goals it also allows an employee to measure their own success. Overachieving on certain goals, such as completing a milestone ahead of a deadline or achieving results above that which are originally set, is a great motivation.

4) Give employees something to strive for

employee-incentivesUsing incentives in any situation in life will create and nurture motivation. If you know that you’ll receive a reward for completing a task, then that motivates you to do it. This is the same in the workplace, if an employee has something tangible and of personal benefit to work towards, then they’ll be more encouraged to do so – this could be monetary, a gift, promotion or simply appreciation from colleagues.

Creating mini competitions has been a management strategy within sales departments for many years, this type of motivation shouldn’t be confined to just one department though. Company-wide incentives to achieve specific goals should be used to improve employee wellbeing and instil a community feel into the business as a whole.

Using a company intranet to create a community is very effective. Publishing employee news, competitions and incentives to the whole business attracts conversation and cultivates a happy and connected employee base. Happy, cohesive employees are more motivated to do well and drive the business forward.

5) Flexibility

Showing that, as an employer, you can be flexible and adapt to your employee’s needs improves motivation as well as internal relationships and wellness. Employees who are able, should they need to, to telecommute or work different hours will feel valued and respected by the business, they’ll be happy to return that respect with hard work and a motivated, productive approach to their role.

6) Build trust as a leader

People respect others that they can trust, if you haven’t got the trust of your subordinates then you’ll have a hard time motivating them. Gaining trust requires time and transparency, a good leader is open and honest and shows respect for their whole team. Employees who know they can trust their manager will feel comfortable approaching them if they have any issues or feel unmotivated.
As a leader, knowing that your subordinates will come to you should they have any problems, is much better than thinking they might look for alternative employment rather than have to speak to you about such matters.

About the Author

17+ years experience in the HR technology sector spanning Software Support, Account Management and Marketing. Over a decade of writing expertise, with 800+ published articles on all aspects of professional life. Article links from such sites as The New York Times, Inc, and Huffington Post. The opinions expressed in my articles are my own and may not necessarily be those of CIPHR


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