Dealing with and preventing demotivation among your team

June 21, 2018

It often strikes me how leaders feel powerless to deal with demotivation in those they manage.


Firstly it’s good to recognise that ‘motivate’ isn’t actually something we do to people – it’s more about what can do for people.

There’s a great deal that managers can do to create a working environment that’s motivating for the people they manage.

And yet, right now there seems to be an outbreak of what of my clients calls ‘title-itis’: conferring and/or creating titles to retain valued employees.

Some firms do this without significantly changing the role or, if they do, without matching the pay to the new responsibilities. This kind of management can feed perceptions of unfairness, which lead to demotivation and, for many, an exit.

Almost half the UK workforce intends to change jobs in 2018 (see Investors in People’s eye-opening ‘Job Exodus Report’ if you need convincing).

If you’re concerned that those you manage are demotivated, try some or all of these six steps:


1. Treat people fairly

No ‘teacher’s pet’ or ‘my star player’. No favourites who seem to work to different rules to everyone else, get more opportunities and all the best projects. We use bias all the time – it often provides us with a handy shortcut, but we need to be aware of it, otherwise we can take a more positive view of people who are like us and cut much less slack for those who are different.


2. Handle conflict

Teams can quickly become toxic if differences in attitudes, behaviours and ways of working rub individuals up the wrong way. One employee’s ‘direct’ approach may be another’s ‘aggressive’. If this is happening in your team, don’t let resentment fester. Deal with it sooner rather than later.


3. Help people learn

As someone who provides learning workshops for employees, I strongly believe that participants’ managers are the vital variable when it comes to making learning stick – or letting it slip away. You can provide essential support before and after training. You can also help people learn as they do the job, day to day, by taking a more ‘coach’ approach in everyday work conversations. This means being mindful of how often you ‘ask’ or ‘tell’ people about tasks. Which is best? Which do you prefer – being told or being asked?


4. Give stretch assignments

No, not helping to plan the Christmas party. Stretch assignments take people out of their comfort (or even boredom) zone – but not into their stress / burnout zone. This isn’t about ‘throwing people in the deep end’; stretch assignments are set just above the employee’s competence. It may be a research project for new business, working in collaboration with a very different discipline, or at another location.


5. Consider secondments

Yes, you’ll lose someone from your team – at least in the short term. But your employer will gain (and retain) a more rounded employee. Global blue-chip employers provide ‘tours of duty’ to different departments and places to enable future leaders to fully understand all aspects of the business. It’s not beyond smaller firms to do the same. Long ago I was seconded part-time to a client’s marketing department and it was a huge eye-opener. Secondments, within or beyond the firm, can be invaluable ways for employers to keep people motivated.


6. Celebrate the small stuff

This isn’t about popping champagne corks; it’s more about simply acknowledging when everyday things have worked well. For example, you can gather the team to share their ‘highlight of the week’ each Friday. It’s also about showing you’ve noticed when someone’s made a big effort; a few well-chosen words can make a big difference. So can letting everyone leave an hour (or more) early after a gruelling few days / weeks. For some teams, it has to be cake. How can your team celebrate?


About the author

Dawn SillettDawn Sillett has been designing and delivering training workshops and executive coaching for over 15 years.


Author of: The Feedback Book

THE FEEDBACK BOOKMaintaining performance today is no longer simply about having an annual appraisal and telling employees “you must try harder”. Research demonstrates that regular discussions about performance and providing feedback to the people you manage is a more effective way to motivate them and keep them on track.Distilled into this single, handy-sized volume are 50 tips, advice and techniques to help any manager become quickly skilled at regularly discussing performance, setting goals and objectives and providing the necessary feedback to ensure individuals and teams thrive in the company. Structured into five key parts, each of the 50 concise chapters also contains a practical exercise to help the reader understand and implement the concepts and ideas of this book.


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