3 Ways to Motivate Staff & 3 Ways to Demotivate Staff

November 16, 2018


Motivating staff and keeping them engaged can be an ongoing challenge for many managers and leaders. What are some achievable strategies to motivate staff, and conversely, what are some things to avoid.

Intrinsic verses Extrinsic
Motivation is generally described as a dichotomy: internal motivation, i.e., “intrinsic” or external motivation, i.e., “extrinsic”.

Extrinsic motivation is when behaviour is driven or shaped by external forces, such as renumeration or incentives. Extrinsic motivation is more the carrot and stick approach and once the incentive or threat is removed so to is the desired behaviour.

Intrinsic motivation is when the behaviour is driven by internal reasons, such as the joy and pleasure of doing something well or belonging to a high performing team or working for an organisation that has the same values as you. There is an internal reward that motivates you to do well and care about the outcomes.

The research into this topic clearly comes out on the side of encouraging or developing intrinsic motivation with your staff. Having management practises in place that develop your employee’s internal drive to perform well at their task, as opposed to relying on external factors, such as authoritarian management, or pay and incentives. This does not mean an employee’s wages and conditions are not important, however, often these are beyond the control of managers or there is no room to negotiate further. Plus, there is a limit to how much these external factors impact on motivation, and in some cases, they may even demotivate staff.

3 Ways to Motivate
1. Competence
Develop a sense of competence in your staff. Increase their skill level and help them be the best they can be at their job. This can be achieved through formal recognised training programs or through other vocationally related courses. Consider having a mentoring program in place or peer collaboration and support.

Developing a sense of competence goes beyond the direct skills of the job and can extend to “soft skills” training, such as coping with stress or resilience, first-aid course or perhaps personal health and wellbeing. There is a myriad of ways to develop an individual’s sense of competence, with this development being enhanced and consolidated by words of encouragement and support from their manager.

Research shows that when managers help their staff to become more competent, other aspects of their mindset improve as well. Also, a person’s perception of how competent their manager thinks they are has more influence on their self-image than the person’s own perception of their competence. Encouraging competence drives internal motivation and improves one’s mental state.

2. Autonomy
Competence alone is not enough to boost intrinsic motivation and it must be accompanied by the perception of autonomy. Autonomy relates to staff having a perceived sense of control over their decisions and behaviours. Allow your staff to participate in decisions that affect the day-to-day business of the workplace, and where possible, allow the employee to determine how they tackle the daily demands of their role.

Autonomy-supportive behaviours range from acknowledging your staff’s perspective, avoiding excessive controlling behaviours, and providing them with choice and opportunities for independent initiative.

This idea has played out in a host of research that compares autonomous-supportive environments where people have a sense of control over their decisions and behaviours, as opposed to more controlling approaches in which those being managed simply followed orders. The results of research show that give employees a sense of autonomy is associated with greater intrinsic motivation in employees.

3. Relatedness
Relatedness concerns the nature of the working relationships within your organisation. How well staff at all levels get on and relate to each other. The goal to is to develop a team with high quality working relationships, where people relate to each other as friends, colleagues and co-workers, supporting each other and helping to get the job done.

A long line of psychological, evolutionary and anthropological research supports the emphasise on relatedness. It shows that our desire to form meaningful relationships powerfully influences our intrinsic motivation.

Thus, the three ways to motivate your staff in a meaningful and sustainable way is to provide an environment that has a growth mindset and values learning and development. This is supported by giving staff as much control over their own destiny as is practical and achievable within the constraints of your enterprise, all in the context of high-quality working relationships.

3 Ways to Demotivate
Dozens of Ways
Whilst I have titled this post “3 ways…”, there are most likely dozens of ways to demotivate staff and my slim offerings are no doubt the tip of the iceberg.

1. Micromanage
Having a manager who micromanages their staff sends a strong signal of distrust. The manager does not trust their staff enough to leave them to their own devices and initiative. Being micromanaged is demeaning and demotivates staff because it takes away their own sense of control and autonomy. Plus, this behaviour is personality based and difficult to change, therefore, from the employee’s perspective, it is relentless and will never stop.

A survey in 2018 of over 5000 employees found that being micromanaged was by far the worst trait in a manager. Most people do not like being micromanaged and it will certainly demotivate and stifle any initiative and mostly likely encourage your staff to always be on the lookout for another job.

2. Favouritism
A manager overtly behaving in a way that signals they have favourites is a path to civil war and almost guaranteed at demotivating the unfavoured staff. People can easily discern whether they are part of the in-group or the out-group. Managers need to be aware of the implications of showing preference for some staff over others in their behaviours. If you want a cohesive team operating in an environment where people help each other and deliver results, then you cannot have a manager who behaves differently to some people compared to others.

Here are some behaviours that signal favouritism:
• Spending unequal amounts of time with certain individuals – your favourites
• Always going to coffee or lunch with selected team members
• Closed-door conversations with selected individuals
• Laughing at some team members’ jokes and not others’
• Warmer language with some people compared to others
• Praise given consistently to certain individuals and not others
• Consistently delegating attractive tasks or projects to some people

A manager will most likely have better rapport with some staff over others, however, one of the functions of being a good manager is not showing it. A manager cannot spend more time with some team members versus others and they cannot talk in a positive tone to some team members and a less-positive tone to others.

3. Seriously
Or, more to the point, not being taken seriously. Staff need to be valued, genuinely listened to and taken seriously. By “seriously” I mean recognising and acknowledging employees as unique individuals.

Australia’s leading social researcher, and psychologist, Hugh Mackay, wrote a book called, “What Makes Us Tick” in 2010. In the book he discussed 10 desires, or motives, that explain why we behave the way we do. He speaks of all the desires as being equally important except one; the desire to be taken seriously, which he believes is the most important of all the 10 desires.

Hugh Mackay is a terrific writer and far more concise and articulate than I will ever be, so I will let him explain why taking someone seriously is so important and the implications of not taking your staff seriously:

“We all want our voices to be heard as authentic, legitimate and worthy of attention. We can’t bear to be overlooked, dismissed or belittled. Among the factors that explain why we do the things we do, this one is sovereign. When we know we are being taken seriously, we can relax into that assurance. When we fear we are not, our reactions can range from sadness, resignation or disappointment, through envy of those who receive the recognition we crave, to a burning fury of resentment.”

As mentioned, there are most likely dozens of ways to demotivate your staff, however, micromanaging, showing favourites and not taken them seriously, is near the top of the list.