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Home » Employee Engagement, Culture, Human Capital Management, Management

Surefire Ways to Demotivate Your Employees

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donkey-carrotThe business of business has always been to provide products and services to customers. Throughout the ages, plans have been made, resources organized, people recruited (or conscripted), and everything coordinated together so that as near as possible the desired outcome was realized.

Of all these elements, however, there is one on which the success or failure of business depends; and that is the people who work in it. Everyone makes errors of judgment. Not a one of them knows exactly what to do in all circumstances, or does it regardless. But, it’s the management of them that gives an organization its best chance for success because short of automating everything, business cannot be done without the people.

This, perhaps, is why the problem of motivating people keeps coming up. It contributes to or detracts from profitability more than any other single factor; and most organizations seem unable to solve that problem.

A popular question is, “How can I motivate my employees?” And the question reveals the answer. It does so because it’s the wrong question. In order to get the right answer, you have to start by asking a better question.

The right one is this: “How did my employees become demotivated.”

How did it happen?

How is it that they were filled with enthusiasm in the first six months, but now they dread coming to work?

Let’s bring it really close to home. What did you do to them? What did you do, or permit, that caused your employees to lose their motivation?

That’s what you need to ask yourself.

If you have a motivation problem in your company, you need to focus on why it happened at all.

You’ll never be able to solve the problem until you know what caused it. More than that: If you don’t know why, it is more than likely that you are still demotivating them, and that’s why you still have a problem.

Here are three ways that you could be demotivating your people:

1. Devaluing the contributions that they make

Either you value what people do, or you don’t. You have to see this from their perspective. To them, there are no grey areas.

They need to know in their heart of hearts that you are genuinely grateful for them and the work that they do, and you can make them believe the exact opposite simply by pooh-poohing their suggestions: “We tried that already”, or “I already know that” or worse, “You’re not paid to figure that out.”

If you really want to turn this around, you have to ask yourself what you can do to demonstrate consistently that you value your employees.

2. Preventing them from making a difference

It’s hard enough to make a difference at work without being discouraged from even trying. Quite often, for example, employees are sent to workshops and development courses. Many of them are excited to go, and can’t wait to put their newly discovered ideas into practice upon their return.

But all too often, managers prevent them from doing anything differently. None of what they’ve learned is deemed to be relevant to the task at hand.

It’s nothing short of amazing that organizations would spend thousands of dollars on training without determining beforehand what they wanted people to do differently as a result; but it makes the whole thing a mockery, not only of the investment, but also of the people themselves, when you allow your managers to stand in the way of them doing so when they try.

3. Modifying or removing things in their job that they have a right to expect

There are a lot of different things that people have a right to expect; but let’s look at just one of them.

Your employees have a right to receive fair pay for what they do. No doubt, you agree.

So how could they be made to feel that you were all talk and no action?

One way would be in the size of the salary increases and bonuses afforded to managers and board members compared to their own meagre increases. The rank dishonesty and greed that emerged during the recent recession is a perfect example.

It doesn’t matter if you think that your employees’ compensation package is fair. You’re not the one who is demotivated.

You have to learn to see these things from the perspective of the people you want to motivate. Justifying your actions, regardless of how logical it seems to you, makes the problem worse; not better.

Is your company and its leaders guilty of any of these? If so, then you need to take positive steps to turn things around.

It’s up to you.

Other articles you may be interested in:

Jesse Jacoby
The Editor of Emergent Journal and founder of Emergent, Jesse is a recognized expert in business transformation. He and his team partner with Fortune 500 and mid-market companies to deliver successful people and change strategies. Jesse is the creator of the Accelerating Change & Transformation (ACT) model and developer of Change Accelerator and Savvy Transition. Contact Jesse at 303-883-5941 or


  • Bob Gately says:

    Hello Jesse,

    If we wait until an applicant is an employee to address the issue of motivation, then we have waited too long and may have hired a problem employee.

    80% of employees self-report that they are not engaged.
    80% of managers are ill suited to effectively manage people.
    The two 80 percents are closely related.

    Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employee lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent 

    Employers do a… 

    A. Great job of hiring competent employees. 

    B. Good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture. 

    C. Poor job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job. 

  • Hi Bob,

    Thank you for sharing your insights. Your summary accurately depicts many client situations I’ve seen (many in the IT function).

    I’m curious to hear more about the difference between competence and job talent in your description.

    By the way, I like this statement on your website: “Employees don’t leave their employer, they quit their immediate supervisor.”



    • Bob Gately says:

      Hello Jesse,

      “Thank you for sharing your insights.”

      You’re welcome and it is my pleasure and thank you for writing the article.

      “Your summary accurately depicts many client situations I’ve seen (many in the IT function).”

      We’ve been showing employers how to hire successful employees since 1991.

      “I’m curious to hear more about the difference between competence and job talent in your description.”

      All hiring managers hire for knowledge, skills, and abilities only and too few hire for knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors. The following is from the book “First Break All the Rules, what the world’s greatest managers do differently” by Buckingham and Coffman. The authors’ define a “talent “, (page 71) as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied…The emphasis here is on the word ‘recurring.’ Great managers say ‘Your talents are the behaviors you find yourself doing often.’ ”

      The authors repeat the following four lines several times in the book (pages 57, 67, 79). 

      · People don’t change much. 

      · Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. 

      · Try to draw out what was left in. 

      · That is hard enough. 

      When hiring, Conventional Wisdom says (page 66)… 

      1. select a person…based on his experience, intelligence and determination. 

      2. set expectations…by defining the right steps. 

      3. motivate the person…by helping him identify and overcome his weaknesses. 

      4. develop the person…by helping him learn and get promoted. 

      When hiring, Great Managers say… 

      1. select for talent…not just experience, intelligence or determination.
      2. define the outcomes…not the right steps 

      3. focus on strengths…not weaknesses 

      4. help find the right fit…not the next promotion 

      Conventional Wisdom says… 

      1. Experience makes the difference. 

      2. Brainpower makes the difference.
      3. Willpower makes the difference. 

      Great managers agree with the three items above but great managers label willpower a talent and it is almost impossible to teach (page 72). Only the presence of talents can explain why, all other factors being equal, some people excel in the role and some struggle (page 73). 

      As manager you need to know exactly which talents you want. (page 101) Great talents need great managers if they are to be turned into performance. (page 102) 

Each employee breathes different psychological oxygen. (page 151) 

      You cannot learn very much about excellence by studying failure…Excellence is not the opposite of failure. (page 157)

      Whereas conventional wisdom views individual specialization as the antithesis of teamwork, great managers see it as the founding principle (page 173). In the minds of great managers, consistent poor performance is not primarily a matter of weakness, stupidity disobedience, or disrespect. It is a matter of miscasting (page 209).

      “By the way, I like this statement on your website: “Employees don’t leave their employer, they quit their immediate supervisor.”

      It is all about the people; hire the wrong people and things go wrong.

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