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Dealing with work demotivation

Last updated on 
January 3, 2020

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Starting to feel the deepest kind of January blue? You’re not alone. The seasonal glow has worn off, the sky is permanent dirty-bedsheet-gray, your festive belly fat hasn’t moved, and there’s an unrealistic pressure to improve yourself immediately.

But while demotivation is definitely the flavor of January, we can't just confine the conversation to one month of the year. Managing work demotivation requires ongoing effort, and we all need to get better at helping colleagues and employees work through their blues and return to a warmer palette. To that end, here’s everything you need to know about dealing with work demotivation.

What actually is demotivation?

Being demotivated isn’t the same as being unmotivated. The former refers to a temporary dip in an otherwise healthy state, whereas the latter refers to a continual and problematic state. This means that being demotivated isn’t usually as hard a problem to solve, but it also means it can be more frustrating.

If someone has lost all drive and motivation – either due to unhappiness or unfulfillment at work or their own personal circumstances – it can be easier for others to understand. But if someone has temporarily lost their drive, or is going through a “blip”, it’s not always met with the same patience and consideration. Sometimes you can “snap out” of your slump, but it’s not always that simple.

No matter how much you like your job, most people will experience a slump in work motivation at some point. Even if this is only fleeting, it can still be stressful and isolating, so it’s key for managers to recognize the signs of demotivation in employees, know how to relieve those symptoms, and work to protect employees against it. To do this, we need to know why demotivation happens in the first place.

Why do people lose motivation at work?

Unpleasant work environment: This can cover all manner of sins. From the physical (dark, dingy offices that seem to suck the very life from us) to the psychological (poisonous power struggles and obnoxious office politics), what we experience in the office has a significant impact on our motivation. These problems can be passive, too; perhaps there’s a lack of structure in the office, or an absence of clear leadership.

Lack of reward or recognition: As human beings, we place great value on how we ourselves and our work are regarded by others. We crave recognition and reward; we want to feel like our talents are noticed and our hard-work is appreciated. If we repeatedly receive no reward or recognition, our motivation drops. Because what’s the point?

Lack of respect: If our managers are peering over our shoulder or micromanaging, we feel distrusted – like we’ve done something wrong. Feeling like a naughty child is hugely detrimental to our drive; we need to feel respected, that we’re agents of our own work and that our opinions matter.

Personal reasons: Sometimes problems at work come from outside. Balancing our personal and professional lives is something all adults must do, but on occasion this can seem impossible. Whether you’re dealing with serious financial problems, chronic insomnia or a really bad breakup, there are dozens of existential factors that negatively impact motivation.

Feeling disconnected or undeveloped: People thrive on communication and meaningful relationships, and when that’s lacking it can seriously impede progress. Whether you’re lonely and don’t have a support system, or whether you feel as though your career is stagnant, we all want to feel not only challenged and inspired at work, but also content and connected.

But the list goes much further than this – see our deep-dive on why we lose work motivation for more.

How to deal with work demotivation

Managers have huge power and responsibility to support demotivated employees – from guiding a positive company culture to championing compassionate leadership. While there’s no single approach to increasing motivation, these five approaches can help soften the blow of demotivation when it does hit:

Promote the wellbeing of your employees

You can’t help employees fight personal battles personal, but you can reduce the stresses posed by their working life. Do what you can to ensure your staff have enough downtime, and when you’re working on a big project, make sure everyone’s getting time to relax, unwind and interact. Offer flexible working wherever possible to accommodate your employees’ different lifestyles and personal commitments.

Show trust and respect

Few things chip away at motivation like distrust and disrespect. Always check yourself for micromanagement. It’s fine to offer advice, but you should offer your employees autonomy and let them establish their own ways of working. Show them you respect their expertise, and extend responsibilities to give them new opportunities to develop – research has shown that learning can help reduce work stress!

Don’t stop communicating

Communication is critical when it comes to tackling demotivation. Ensure your staff know they can come to you if they have a problem. Take the time to create an open-door culture, and never rely on email to resolve personal issues. Get to know your staff and let them know you view them as an individual, rather than a cog in a machine. Always listen to your employees; even if you don’t agree, let them know you’ve heard them.

Be positive and give meaningful reward

Any managerial negativity soon drips down to staff, so be conscious of the signals you're giving out and champion positivity. Ensure your workplace is a pleasant environment; we’re not just talking about physical decoration – it actually needs to serve the differing needs of your employees on a psychological level. When an employee does well, recognize it openly – whether that’s through a public “thank you” or an individually-tailored extrinsic reward. Recognizing your employees’ efforts helps create loyalty by showing that you actually value their individual contribution.

Wondering how to motivate your employees? Understand the different types of motivation to know how and when to use them.

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Lead happier, healthier teams.

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