Even the best and brightest on your team can lose their drive. In this article, we explore the most common causes of employee demotivation and how to address them to keep your team thriving.
- How to spot a demotivated employee
- 5 causes of employee disengagement and how to address them
How to spot a demotivated employee
If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already noticed a change in a member of your team. Here’s a rundown of what to look out for:
• Noticeable drop in productivity
• Increased absence
• Uncharacteristic negative attitude or conflict with co-workers
• Change in demeanour (tired, disengaged, etc.)
• Doing the bare minimum required of them
Causes of employee disengagement
1. Lack of professional development
Whether it’s improving their skillset, landing a promotion or securing a pay increase in their current role – even the most dedicated team members are driven by personal goals. Employees who don’t see any opportunities to upskill or progress in their career are likely to lose their drive.
What to do about it:
Make a habit of having regular one-to-ones with each of your direct reports. Think of this as a chance to get to know your employees better, as well as support their professional development.
Here are a few points to raise during a one-to-one session:
• Ask employees where they want to be. Find out what they see as the next step in their career. Maybe they want to move into management or be given more opportunities to present at meetings.
• Be honest about what you can offer. If they want a promotion, is there a suitable role open in your company right now? Do you expect one to open in future? If not, it could be time to let them move on. Being honest will show people that you genuinely care about their goals and they’ll appreciate your transparency.
• Give them actionable steps. What’s required for them to progress to the next stage? Knowing what you need to do to reach your end goal makes it real and achievable (see section 2).
• Support them to success. If this employee needs to upskill to achieve their goals, can you provide the required training? For a team member keen to move into management, for example, soft-skills training like a negotiation workshop could be all they need to fill a gap in their skillset.
We’ve all had that manager who’s constantly looking over your shoulder, checking your work and more often than not, holding you back from making real progress. But micromanagement isn’t just annoying – it strips employees of their autonomy, confidence and drive. It can also stifle commercial growth because staff are less likely to develop new ideas when they’re constantly putting work on hold to wait for authorisation.
What to do about it:
Instead of trying to control your team at a micro-level, work with team members on an individual basis to set clear, attainable goals. SMART goals give you a more constructive way to track progress while keeping each person focused on success. Here’s how to keep your goals SMART:
• Specific – avoid vague goals like ‘improve your customer service skills’. Be clear about why the goal is important and what tasks are required to achieve it. For example, ‘Increase customer satisfaction by 10% by reducing wait times from three minutes to one minute, and resolving new tickets within 24 hours’.
• Measurable – team members are more likely to be motivated to achieve a goal when they can track and quantify their progress.
• Achievable – talk to your team and agree on realistic goals. Otherwise, you risk demotivating them further.
• Relevant – is this goal in line with the individual’s personal and professional goals? If not, they’ll struggle to maintain momentum.
• Time-bound – set a clear deadline for when the goal should be achieved. This helps employees to stay focused.
3. Poor work-life balance
Providing your recruitment process is transparent, each person on your team knew what they were committing to when they accepted their role. But circumstances change and someone who was a contented employee last year might now be struggling to balance work with their personal life. Having a child, caring for a relative or even finding a new hobby can all cause priorities to shift.
What to do about it:
Use your one-to-one meeting to find out what the problem is. Remember to be compassionate; there could be sensitive circumstances at the root of the issue. Take time to raise your concerns, ask them about their work-life balance and find out what you can do to help. For example:
• Can you offer flexible working? Staff who are trying to juggle working hours around childcare may benefit from flexible working hours. You could even negotiate them working a half-day once a week.
• Could this person work remotely? With more companies offering remote working, it’s not unusual for employees to work at least part of their week from home or elsewhere. This can be especially helpful for a team member who’s lacking down-time due to a long commute or family commitments. Consider giving them the option to join meetings via video call to reduce travel time.
4. Unmanageable workload
Employees who are consistently overwhelmed at work are more likely to experience stress and anxiety. A 2018 study from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) attributed 44% of work-related stress to a high workload. Overworked employees are also likely to lack the sense of achievement associated with completing tasks because their ‘to-do’ list just keeps growing.
What to do about it:
• Start each week with a ‘stand-up’ meeting. This gives everyone on your team the opportunity to report what they’ll be working on that week, ask for help or raise concerns. Keep the meeting to an hour or less and let employees join via a conference call to reduce the demand on their time.
• Use a productivity app like Trello, Basecamp or Asana to monitor tasks without creating extra work for your team. You can see what each individual is working on, assign tasks, monitor progress and spot potential issues before they arise. The team will also have an increased awareness of each other’s workloads.
• Take steps to reduce workplace stress. Treat your team for a long lunch during core hours, organise an activity day or check out this guidance from the HSE on how to reduce stress at work.
5. Feeling detached from the ‘big picture’
Employees who feel like a ‘cog in the machine’ or don’t have a sense of your company’s long-term goals can lose their drive because they lack a sense of purpose in their work.
What to do about it:
Bring your team in on big decisions instead of fighting it out between senior management or directors. Involving your team in the decision-making process has several advantages:
• Promotes a culture of honesty and transparency
• Shows your team that you value their opinion and insight
• Demonstrates how individual contributions impact the company
• Leads to more effective problem-solving
Employees can help you solve problems faster because they have a deeper understanding of issues at a practical level. For example, nobody knows your customers better than your sales rep. So, if you’re struggling with a recent drop in customer retention, your sales team will be a valuable source of insight.
Follow-up with a weekly memo to your whole team. Include progress reports on important issues, updates from senior management and ask your team to contribute. Don’t be afraid to use this channel for sharing less formal news like welcoming a new employee or wishing someone a happy birthday. This is a great way to remind your team that they’re integral to the company, both personally and professionally.
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