Stop De Motivating Your Staff

Friday, March 14, 2014

“Staff morale is low.” “Employees are not motivated.” These are phrases I frequently hear when I work with companies up and down the country. Poor staff morale and low levels of motivation are symptoms; the cause is always poor communication and a lack of people focus within the organisation.

I’ve come to realise that before a company can start the work of boosting staff morale and motivation it has to cease the behaviours that are de-motivating staff in the first place. 

Uncivil Behaviour 
I’m frequently amazed how people will tolerate rude behaviour at work when then wouldn’t for a moment tolerate it outside of work. Naive managers don’t realise that just as customers volunteer to do business with your company, staff volunteer the qualities they display at work. 

Staff may feel they have to turn up for work to earn a living, but who they are at work, the attitude they display, is optional. 

In recent research 50% of employees surveyed who had experienced uncivil behaviour at work said they intentionally decreased their effort levels as a result. Two-thirds of those surveyed admitted they spend a lot of time avoiding the offender and a similar number admitted their performance declined as a consequence of their treatment. 

So what constitutes uncivil behaviour? 
Shouting, making threats, demeaning comments, rebuking or giving negative feedback in front of others and ignoring colleagues are all examples of uncivil behaviour (and very poor people management skills.) 

Company culture is contagious, so if uncivil behaviour is tolerated at management levels, staff will see that this behaviour is acceptable and will replicate it. In a recent Mercer study of 30,000 employees in 17 countries people where asked what factors motivated them at work. Top of the list was “being treated with respect.” In essence, it is respect that is damaged by uncivil behaviour. 

Without respect what hope is there for positive morale and motivation? 

Avoidance of Reality 
Effective leadership is a balance between realism and optimism. Staff become disillusioned when they feel management are ‘not living in the real world,’ are too focused on the future and are not dealing with the issues and challenges they are facing in the present. 

When I hear comments from staff like ‘management are too removed’ ‘they don’t know what it is like to do my job’ or ‘they haven’t a clue about what I have to deal with’ it doesn’t matter what lofty plans exist for the future, staff have other pressing issues to cope with in the present and future strategy will seem just like pie in the sky to them. 

Falling into this ‘lack of realism’ category is beautifully worded but intangible mission and vision statements. Unless mission statements, vision statements and company values are translated for staff in a tangible and practical way, they remain meaningless concepts that no one remembers because they are irrelevant to their experience of what it is like to work in the organisation. 

Allowing a Communication Vacuum 
It is rare that I will work with an organisation where lack of communication or poor communication is not an issue. Staff want to be kept informed and unfortunately when there isn’t frequent and proactive communication in an organisation gossip will fill the vacuum and gossip is never positive. 

Managers often ask me what should I do if there is no news to communicate. My answer is always the same. From staff’s perspective the cliché that ‘no news is good news’ doesn’t apply. From their perspective it is ‘no news is the worst news.’ So even if there isn’t new information to communicate, share that fact. 

In these challenging times what people crave is certainty and even if there isn’t certainty about future business, salaries or bonuses, staff need to feel certain that their manager appreciates them, knows their concerns and is keeping them informed. 

Staff want to feel part of something meaningful and it is only through regular communication which really means conversations, that this will happen. 

So what’s required to reverse the behaviours that de-motivate staff? 
Self-awareness is the first step. You have to be aware of your current behaviour and in particular the impact you have on the people around you. 

Secondly, many managers have little understanding of the basics of human psychology which underpins all effective communication and motivation strategies. If this is an area of weakness, up-skilling is required. 

Lastly, managers must always remember that their success is dependent on the people they manage, and simply put this means having people management issues and staff well-being at the top of their agendas.

James Sweetman is a Business and Personal Coach, specialising in assisting individuals and firms to be more effective at what they do. He works both on a one-2-one basis with individual clients as well as delivering tailored training workshops on a range of topics including Confidence Building and Presentation Skills. For more information visit