Most employees begin a new job brimming with enthusiasm and excited to bring a fresh perspective to the organization. As time passes though, that enthusiasm can turn into boredom or even full-on disengagement when circumstances change or they start to see things in a different light. This isn’t only relevant for individual contributors and junior-level roles either – even more senior-level employees and C-suite executives can become unmotivated, in companies of all sizes and industries.
What this all really means is that a good portion of your best employees might feel unmotivated to some degree as well, at this very moment. To be fair though, there are some reasons an employee might lose motivation that you have limited control over, such as poor role fit, poor culture fit, personal or health issues, or interpersonal issues with colleagues and / or managers. But aside from those reasons, there are two other distinct reasons great employees become unmotivated that every company leader should be aware of:
1. Lack of Challenge
Psychologists define motivation as an internal process that makes a person move toward a goal. It’s literally the desire to get things done. So, when you want to make sure your employees don’t become unmotivated, remember that they need:
1) an understanding of the tasks they are supposed to do, and
2) some goals to work toward
The first point, understanding tasks, is easier to take care of. Managers should fully clarify and reinforce each employee’s responsibilities and also ensure that the balance and / or load of work across the team is reasonable.
The second point can be thornier to deal with. Establishing a goal is critical to feeling motivated to perform. At the same time, any old goal just won’t do. Goals should excite and inspire your employees to feel a sense of challenge. One of the best ways to get employees on board is to solicit their opinions on new initiatives or projects. Feeling like they have a say in the decision-making process makes employees feel much more invested in the outcome.
Another great way to increase the feeling of being challenged is to gamify your workplace. Gamification involves the creation of an incentive structure to encourage your employees to achieve. About 72% of employees say that gamification makes them work harder. The great thing about gamification is that it can be applied to nearly any aspect of your business and it doesn’t have to be complicated or complex. For example, Lawley Insurance ran a two-week contest to improve its sales pipelines, rewarding employees for updating close dates, logging prospect contact attempts, and entering new opportunities. In 2 weeks, employees logged more Salesforce activity than in the prior 7 months combined.
2. Disconnect between the Company’s Beliefs and Actions
The other major reason employees become unmotivated is that they either no longer believe in the company’s mission, or find that there is a disconnect between what the company says it values, and the actions they take that demonstrate the contrary.
For example, perhaps your organization’s core values include striving for excellence and employee recognition, but as of late the company has gotten out of the habit of rewarding excellence and rather into the habit of ignoring mediocre performance. For high-performing employees, it can be very frustrating to watch colleagues face no consequences when they’re not “pulling their weight.” Pretty soon, your best employees might start thinking, “If Bob can get away with playing around on his phone and submitting sloppy reports, why should I bother?” To counteract this, managers should get in the habit of providing personalized feedback to recognize excellence and always being mindful of the company values that likely attracted your top performers. When managers act with integrity and recognize employees’ contributions, engagement rises 60%.
In addition to paying attention to in-house disconnects between belief and action, it is also essential to maintain a consistent external employer brand. If your company professes transparency but practices secrecy, employees will begin to feel less motivated to achieve. Similarly, bad business practices or public scandals undermine morale and discourage prospective talent from considering your company. Take a hard look at your mission and core company values and ask for employee feedback about how you can better behave in line with your professed values.
Lack of motivation at work can have reverberating consequences, Employees with low morale can complain and suck the motivation from everyone else. Fortunately, taking steps to increase challenges at work and ensure that your company is aligning its actions with its professed beliefs can transform your workplace culture.