Trying to produce high-quality work when you’re unmotivated is like trying to eat when you’re not hungry. You might go through all the motions of the task, but as a consequence of motivation’s absence, performance is inefficient and noncommittal — not to mention the task is unenjoyable. It’s invisible, but motivation in the workplace is one of the most influential determinants of employee success. Considering that the cumulative impact of employee success (or failure) ultimately amounts to company success, motivation in the workplace is something leaders need to pay attention to.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about employees’ motivation in the workplace is that it’s not a fixed state. It’s subject to a whole array of influences, both external and internal, many of which are within a good manager’s control to affect positively.
Below we share a four-step intervention plan for any leader who’s noticed that motivation in their workplace has begun to sink.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
52% of employees who voluntarily left a job say that their manager could have done something to prevent them from leaving in the three months leading up to their resignation but did not. In many cases, this is because managers failed to identify the tell-tale signs of low motivation, which means they never had a chance to take action and address the problem.
Some of the most common signs that employees are experiencing low motivation in the workplace that managers should be aware of include:
- Reduced productivity
- Frequent careless mistakes
- Unusual surge in sick days
- Noticeably irritable attitude
- Failure to volunteer for “above and beyond” tasks
- Difficulty persevering through challenges
Once leaders know the behavioral signs of low motivation in the workplace, they can quickly recognize what kind of challenge they’re dealing with and take steps to remedy the problem. As with most setbacks and challenges, the earlier leaders are able to identify the problem, and the sooner they intervene, the better the outcome.
Step 2: Communicate With the Employee Directly
When it comes to addressing low motivation in the workplace, guesswork is not your friend. Low motivation can have a variety of causes, and in most cases there are several.
Whatever the cause(s) may be, leaders should treat each case of low motivation in the workplace on an individual basis. Take time to understand each employee and their unique professional needs. We’ll share some common culprits below, but know there’s nothing better than checking in with the person who’s experiencing a slump in motivation first-hand to see if they have a grasp on the source of the problem.
Even if they don’t, communicating with the employee directly will establish the expectation that the two of you are going to work together to remedy the problem.
When you have this conversation with your employee, ensure your tone is not accusatory. Instead, approach the conversation as an opportunity to support the employee. Convey that your concern is rooted in a genuine desire to improve the person’s working circumstances. If you make it clear that you’re on the employee’s side, they’ll be a lot more receptive to your efforts to restore motivation in the workplace.
Step 3: Find the Culprit
At this step in the process, both you and the employee are aware that there’s a problem. Now, it’s time to look for it’s cause.
Depending on the employee’s ability to evaluate their own internal state and environmental circumstances, they may or may not be able to provide insight on what’s hurting their motivation. In some scenarios, it’s a fairly obvious circumstance like suffocating micromanagement or a toxic colleague. In other scenarios, it’s more difficult to say.
If you’re having trouble identifying the cause of low motivation in the workplace, consider these common culprits:
- Lack of goal clarity
- Insufficient task variety
- Unclear connection to higher purpose
- Weak connection to peers
- Not equipped with tools they need
- Toxic work environment
Review these options with your employee and see if any of them resonate. It’s likely that more than one will hit home. Sometimes employees don’t initially realize the workplace circumstances that are causing low motivation. Hearing them called out as possibilities can lead to that critical lightbulb moment in which both you and the employee realize what needs to change.
Step 4: Develop Solutions
Once you know what workplace circumstances are causing low motivation in the workplace, taking the steps to remedy those circumstances should be fairly straightforward. That’s not to say it will be easy, but knowing exactly what circumstances need to change makes it simpler to strategize about how to create those changes.
For example, if the issue is a lack of goal clarity, discuss the employee’s goals one month, one quarter, and one year from now. Set aside time weekly to check-in with them and make sure they’re on track. If the issue is a lack of connection to peers, go above and beyond to create opportunities for peers to connect with one another outside of work. Build trust in the office through strategic initiatives like peer-to-peer recognition.
For every culprit of low motivation in the workplace, there is a well-aligned solution that you can use to bring it back to life. Take comfort in the fact that identifying and communicating about the problem is half the battle. Once you’ve accomplished that, you’re in a strategically favorable position to restore employee motivation in the workplace.
Motivation in the Workplace is Yours to Support
When working to restore employee motivation in the workplace, keep in mind that everyone has a unique set of needs that must be fulfilled for them to feel engaged and motivated at work. That said, if low motivation in the workplace is a pervasive problem for your team, start looking for patterns. Combined learnings from individual interventions can help leaders identify when there’s a need for a bigger cultural shift. Regardless of whether the problem exists at an individual or group level, this action plan empowers leaders to take on low motivation in the workplace as they would any other challenge, and devise a strategic response for a successful outcome.
Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.