Keeping, not crushing, employee motivation

I just love the phrases “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and “simply the last straw”. I love the imagery – placing one small filament atop others that suddenly, without warning, topples the whole bundle below, leading to unexpected consequences.

I’ve heard the phrases a lot lately, from a number of managers shocked to discover that one day their motivation for their work had suddenly gone. They wondered how it had happened and whether it would return. In listening to their stories and hearing the context within which they worked, some common demotivators emerged.

One demotivator was being asked to do particular, important, time consuming pieces of work and doing so, without any subsequent discussions or contact with the instigator. This means no monitoring of the work, no formal reporting to or from anyone, no acknowledgement of work done, no personal feedback, no mention of final outcomes in relation to the bigger scheme of things – from kick off to completion. In other words, the disheartening experience of working in a complete vacuum.

Another demotivator was having frequent changes of managers in a role, all coming into the post without a formal handover from the previous incumbent or a formal induction into the role. The new appointees step in cold, not knowing the current situation, current work/projects in progress, the business plans, key systems, cycle of critical tasks or events and so on. Frustrating, stressful weeks and months follow as they induct themselves and get up to speed. Difficult for them, difficult for their staff and costly for the organisation as enthusiasm, motivation and respect ‘for the organisation’ (meaning, their managers and those higher up) may quickly go.

Yet another demotivator appears to be constant pressure, constant deadlines and large volumes of work with few or no natural organisational pauses or breathers. This means there is no time to stop, take stock, acknowledge progress to date and plan for the next burst of activity. The all go, at all fronts, all of the time, can be altogether too much, for some.

The need to be constantly reactive to external or internal pressures with no sense of ever getting on top of or in control of work, can also be demotivating. Also crushing, is the failure to acknowledge employees’ extraordinary efforts in extraordinarily difficult and challenging situations. There is no faster way to lose an employee’s good will, motivation and commitment, than to take for granted and ignore extraordinary efforts.

And so what might help keep those straws off the camel’s back?

If possible, create your own artificial organisational pauses or breathing spaces. Carve time out for you and your team to reflect, acknowledge work done to date, regroup as a team and prepare for what’s ahead. You may want to have something informal, like an afternoon tea, or something more formal, like a special lunch. Do whatever it would take to lift flagging spirits.

Developing a visual organisational (or service or team) scorecard may help, as a way of visually presenting and tracking the milestones and achievements. This way, they are not lost from sight in the midst of viewing all that is still yet to do. It helps to see, sense, hear and feel the way ahead and the context of where the past and current work fits in with what’s to come.

Developing and using tools and systems to provide formal handovers and formal induction processes is also smart. Establishing desk files (containing critical information about the role and particular tasks of the role) is so simple to do, yet so useful and effective. These systems minimise disruptions, personal and organisational stresses and loss of productivity, motivation and enthusiasm when personnel change.

Finding some ways to take control over one’s work can help keep motivation, as sometimes it may not be clear as to what may or may not be controlled by self or others. Check. Consider what it would take to feel and be more in control – involvement with initial planning processes? Monthly formal meetings with your manager? Getting a colleague to look at what’s on your plate? Getting help to reprioritise, timetable or get a different perspective on things?

There are no easy answers. Motivation is very personal and comes from within. However, external factors like working conditions, work situations and stressors, organisational culture, climate and norms can impact. Ask your staff what organisational factors crush their motivation. Ask what impinges upon their ability to be productive, be happy in their work and feel valued in their role. Then see whether some factors or constraints can be eliminated or minimised. Be astute enough to know your staff. Be mindful that some demotivators may be strictly personal and not work related. If this is so, encourage staff to tend to their personal world so that the workplace doesn’t suffer.�

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