Barry Shannon: There is room for strategies to both motivate and also not de-motivate employees

Barry Shannon

HOW many articles do we see about positive motivation at work?

Every new day seems to bring a new variety of carrot to dangle in front of employees. We have engagement initiatives, workplace committees, employee forums, family friendly policies, enhanced benefit schemes, gaming consoles in the office, pool tables, fancy coffee machines, pizza Fridays, personal development / career plans etc etc.

There even used to be a guy on breakfast TV called Mr Motivator for goodness sake, getting you ready for the day ahead (it’s not just Derry Girls who can pull out the 90s references)

Do we think about the other side of this though? No good football manager ignores defence and focuses purely on attack, so why would any good company spend all their time thinking only about how to motivate staff and not on removing factors that might reduce motivation (ie defence)?

Jim Collins (Good to Great fame) suggests that the employees we truly want in our businesses should be self-motivated in the first place and we should therefore focus only on not de-motivating them. Now that, to me, is a little too absolute; I believe there is definitely room for strategies to both motivate and also not de-motivate employees.

Typically, though, we tend to focus more on one than the other, so let’s look at some common de-motivators and how to address them.

• Failure to live in the now: It’s great to have big plans and dreams for your company and these are an important part of building a unified culture and securing employee buy in, however we should also be careful to bring focus to the ‘now’ part of work. Over-hyping the future and ignoring the present can cause employees to feel that the day to day is being ignored and the real problems they may need help with right now are brushed over, under the auspice that everything will work out fine further down the line.

• Lack of meaning in a job. Employees who don’t understand how they personally contribute to the bigger picture can quickly lose all sense of meaning and the job simply becomes mundane and uninspiring. Showing them how their role contributes to team, department and company success can help avoid that pitfall.

• Micromanagement. Employees are for the most part competent and capable. Standing over every little thing they do, failing to give them any decision-making power, requiring unnecessary sign off or updates at every tiny stage of a process can make employees feel like they aren’t trusted, like they are able to do their job without constant supervision. Give them some autonomy, provide directions and support, of course; but allow them to be masters of their own ship, where possible.

• Unnecessary rules, regulations or requirements. There is a key approach to achieving success in most areas of life: keep it simple. Making something complicated for the sake of vanity, putting layers of administration into projects, drafting densely packed guidance that no-one understands or even just having meetings when they clearly are not needed can lead employees to feel they are simply doing ‘busywork’ for the sake of it. Ensure everything is a simple as possible, easy to understand, quick to administer and that processes are lean and purposeful.

• Poor communication. As with a lack of meaning, a feeling that the company does not share information or keep employees in the loop with regard to direction and strategy, success and initiatives, can lead employees to feel less engaged, like they are unimportant. Regular communication and updates on how the company is performing and what is happening over the next few quarters can keep employees interested and bought in. The news does not have to be earth shattering; it can often be enough that employees simply feel they are part of things and that the company cares enough to keep them in the loop; as part of the team.

• Not treating people as humans. No mater what perks are available in a role, if employees are not treated as human beings, with respect, dignity and basic manners; you will quickly have a problem. Dial back ego, treat people as internal customers, listen to what employees say (this does not mean you have to agree, just listen). Take the time to appreciate they are people, not numbers. Ensure they feel valued as professionals while at the same time recognising that work is not the be all and end all of their lives. Build in regular time to chat, one on one, and see how they are doing.

• Not recognising good work. There are few quicker ways to de-motivate staff than to make them feel that what they do is not appreciated. It doesn’t have to be a big monitory bonus, often a simple ‘thank you’ or small token of recognition, can be enough. Even sharing with others what a good job has been done and giving credit where it’s due can be invaluable.

So, while motivating employees is a good thing and definitely still worth putting effort into, we cannot forget the flip side and must take care to remove any de-motivators.

As Bear Bryant, the famous Alabama football coach, once said: ‘offense sells tickets, defence wins championships’.

:: Barry Shannon is head of HR at STATSports

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