The Top 6 Ways Managers Demotivate Employees

Perspectives
Nov 12, 2013
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9 Min Read

An employee’s relationship with his or her manager is the single most important factor in how happy that employee is at work – which means that managers have a huge amount of sway over the mood on their team. Here are the top six ways that managers mess up and end up demotivating employees who might otherwise be more productive.

1. Fuzzy expectations. One of a manager’s most important jobs is to get employees aligned around clear goals and expectations. When that doesn’t happen, employees don’t have a clear understanding of what success in their jobs would look like – and it’s hard to excel when you’re not even sure what you should be excelling in.

2. Ruling by fear. Managers who rule through rigid control, negativity, and a climate of anxiety and fear generally operate like that because they don’t trust that they can get things done any other way. But it ends up backfiring because fearful employees won’t take risks or bring up new ideas for fear of being attacked and won’t be honest about problems. Moreover, very few great people with options want to work for a fear-based manager, so over time these managers have trouble attracting strong workers.

3. Not recognizing good work. Imagine spending weeks working on a project or working through the weekend to make a client happy and then see no signs that your boss noticed or cared. When that happens, employees often conclude that since great work isn’t recognized, there’s no point in putting in extra effort or doing more than the bare minimum – instant demotivation.

4. Making unreasonable demands. Holding employees to a high standard is a good thing. But some managers cross the line from holding people to a high standard to pushing them to the brink. Managers who insist that people work over the weekend to complete a project that isn’t time-sensitive, enforce truly unreasonable deadlines, or demand that an employee do the truly impossible are signaling to their staff that a reasonable person’s idea of excellence will never be enough for this manager … and as a result, cause a drop in morale and productivity.

5. Constantly moving goalposts. Some managers can’t stick to a decision about the most important ways for employees to spend their time. One week, you’re supposed to drop everything to work on Project A for the next month. Three days later, your boss has an idea for Project B and so Project A is forgotten. The next week, she wants all your energy focused on Project C. As a result, employees stop taking any of the work seriously, knowing from experience that there’s no point in giving it their all when the priorities will change soon anyway.

6. Neglecting to deal with problems. Some managers avoid conflict and tough conversations at all costs. This often takes the form of shying away from addressing performance problems, reluctance to make necessary course corrections to a project for fear of offending someone, or not intervening when another department is creating roadblocks. Ironically, while these managers are usually just trying to be liked, over time the opposite happens: As problems go unresolved and difficult decisions go unmade, staff members grow frustrated and lose motivation to work at a high level (and the best among them usually leave).

In what ways have you witnessed a manager demotivating employees?

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