Motivating employees seems to be a constant struggle for many leaders and managers. Try as they might, it seems to be a losing battle.
They’ve tried carrots – pay increases, bonuses, stock options, fewer hours, more days off, and just about every other perk they can think of. They’ve tried sticks, too – threats to demote or fire; and, as a warning to others, they’ve actually carried these things out.
While both of these approaches have had some success, the experience for most has been temporary at best. The long term prognosis seems to be that organizations are destined to live with the lazy, undisciplined staff that they have – those who want a fat paycheck, but simply aren’t willing to work for it the way they once were.
Does this describe your employees? It is how you feel about them? If so, then this article may interest you.
Why are your employees demotivated? Why does anyone become demotivated?
It’s because what they do has no meaning. Meaning is bound up in purpose. If there’s no purpose – no reason for doing something – then it is meaningless to do it.
The same activity can be both meaningful and meaningless. It depends entirely on the person who does it. Therefore, if a bona fide purpose can be found in something that was heretofore meaningless, then the person concerned will be motivated to do it.
If your employees were once motivated and now are not, then it follows that at some point the activity that once had purpose ceased to be meaningful to them.
Resistance to change
How could that happen? One way is in the realm of change.
Consider for a moment the initial enthusiasm that so many have when they begin a new job. There’s no question that some of it is due to its novelty. Most things are interesting at first. It’s only after we get the hang of the routine that boredom sets in. For most, that period is about six months.
After that, new employees who were excited about changing the status quo often become demotivated when they realize that that there’s nothing they can do to make things better than what they were.
The same thing can happen when people return from a workshop. They may be brimming with ideas; but once it becomes clear that their attendance was nothing more than a square-filling exercise, they will become demotivated. The purpose for going will have been stripped from it. It will be seen as a complete waste of their time.
Carrots are not the opposite of sticks
Let’s go back to the idea of carrots. The root of the problem lies in the fact that carrots are not the opposite of sticks.
Think about a pay increase, for example. Why isn’t that a carrot? It’s because it’s something that people expect to get. When they do, they tell themselves, “I deserve it. The cost of living is going up, and I need it just to keep the purchasing power I already have.”
They aren’t motivated when you give it to them, but you will certainly demotivate them if you withhold it. That’s because they will feel that you don’t believe that they deserve it.
If carrots and sticks are unrelated, then what does a carrot look like?
A carrot gives work meaning or purpose that goes beyond making a living. You see, getting a pay increase is about putting food on the table. That’s a necessity. But when people look forward to getting to work because it adds meaning to their lives, then it motivates.
So the question is this: what can you do to give people this meaning? What can you do to add purpose to the jobs that people do?
For many people, there simply isn’t the scope to do this easily. Think about things such as the flipping hamburgers, working on an assembly line, counting nuts and bolts, or ringing up purchases day in and day out. These jobs, though necessary, are characterized by high levels of boredom. And that means that finding meaning in them is a considerable challenge not only for the organization, but for the individuals who do them.
The underappreciated motivation method is appreciation – gratitude.
Gratitude is a remarkable motivator. When you tell someone how much you appreciate what they do for you, you are giving them meaning. You’re saying to them, “You matter to me; and the work you do matters, too. You’re important. Your contribution is valuable.”
All those things validate what someone does. When they know that you value them for who they are and for what they do, then you give them a reason for coming to work.
No doubt you’re thinking to yourself, “Don’t bonuses prove that I value what people do?” That may seem logical.
The problem is that a bonus, in the absence of genuine gratitude can feel disingenuous. That’s because people have a sixth sense for figuring out whether you really mean it or not.
There’s another problem, too, and that is that if they rarely hear you tell them that you appreciate what they do, then they won’t believe you on the rare occasions when you actually say it.
What would you think, for example, of someone whose attitude toward his / her spouse was: “I told you once that I loved you; what’s changed?”
Exactly the same thing is true here.
Make it a point to find ways to express gratitude to your employees. Give them meaning in their work. Insure that they know how much you value the work they do, their ideas, and their effort. If you do this regularly and are genuine about it, you will be amazed at how attitudes change in your organization. It is likely, too, that you will witness a level of motivation that you’ve never seen before.
Try it. You have nothing to lose.