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How to get demotivated employees back on track

At some point in their career, every manager will face a team member with decreased motivation levels and it can be very frustrating to see people being disengaged from their work and unproductive, often spreading the negativity amongst their fellow team members. Motivation accounts for 40 percent of the success of team projects and is a key driver of individual and team performance, yet many managers are often struggling to effectively motivate uninspired employees. According to a global Harvard survey of over 1000 companies and 1.2 million employees in over 80 percent of cases employee motivation declines six months after starting a job, meaning that whilst employees feel enthusiastic and engaged when they join, it only takes months to lose their motivation – and managers play a critical role in employee disengagement.

The root of demotivation

The first step in tackling the demotivation problem is a careful assessment of the reasons behind the motivational failure. By jumping on a quick fix solution, such as suggesting a change in their working style can cause more harm than good. Very often managers make assumptions by thinking about what motives themselves, instead of finding out about what it is that the employee cares about. By engaging in a conversation and seeing things from their perspectives, managers can connect with the employees’ values and link them back to specific tasks or projects. Giving specific targets could work well with transactional jobs where outcomes can be precisely defined, whilst for more creative tasks people might be better motivated when given the space to do their best.

As usual, there is no universal formula and managers need to listen and understand individual motivational drivers to get the most out of their teams. Whilst many managers focus on motivating people through motivational talks and company socials, the truth is that unless people are in the right role and clear about their contribution to the overall business success, being disconnected and disengaged will continue to be a problem. Managers need to focus on setting clear goals and coach their team members regularly, so they learn and grow every day.

Using coaching to motivate people

Most of our learning occurs at work - we learn through those who manage us. As managers, our results come through those who work with us. Managers have a powerful influence on their teams as role models and through their working relationships. Making coaching a regular part of team management makes sense for many reasons. Contrary to an annual review, which often comes with increased anxiety levels and focuses purely on performance, coaching can address changing goals and priorities that need to be addressed more frequently than during annual reviews. Coaching is less formal and happens closer to the event, meaning that employees can better learn from the situation experienced.

Unfortunately, due to too many demands and time pressures, coaching is often pushed to the bottom of the to-do list for many managers. Many organisations see learning and development as something extra they offer to their employees on top of their regular work, but to create a culture that encourages employee growth, learning should be part of the job and managers should encourage continuous learning with supportive behaviours and coach their team members.

Highly motivated and engaged employees are more productive and are keen to go the extra mile, because they believe in their organisation and team and feel connected to the bigger picture. And it’s the role of the leadership team to constantly motivate and inspire employees. At Acumen we have over 18 years’ experience designing and delivering leadership development programmes that help organisations and individuals solve real life challenges and succeed. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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