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4 Ways To Destroy Employee Motivation

by Chris Poindexter

One thing I learned right away in the working world was that good bosses are few and far between. It’s one of those lessons everyone learns at some point, usually the hard way. So, rule number one in your working life is never trade a good boss for the opportunity behind door number 2 without knowing the character of your new supervisor. A good boss is better than a pay raise. According to one survey, only about a third of people in management positions are really cut out for the job, a sad figure that seems to align with my personal experience.

While that may seem obvious it’s surprising how many companies end up promoting the wrong people. Or maybe they’re taking people who are good in another context and putting them in a job for which they are ill suited. Being a good manager is not an intuitive process and many of the same qualities that make a great employee can sometimes turn into negatives when that person is mismatched with a supervisory position. You’d think that most people capable of rising to a supervisory position would at least learn to avoid the big mistakes but apparently not as these big motivational killers are still present in most offices.

Pick On Someone

Be rude or yell at someone, even if it’s someone who deserves it. There are few quicker ways to destroy the morale of a working group than to be publicly rude to one of your people, especially in front of their peers. I was once present when a senior VP of a Fortune 100 company ripped on one of his employees during a big meeting, someone I knew to be both loyal to the company and competent. That incident stayed with me for decades; I will never be able to forget how shockingly rude it was and how it brought a good person to tears. It will come as no surprise that productivity for that division cratered in the months following. The decline in productivity was not because of that one incident, but because the character of the leadership. He was a bully and there are few flaws more immediately fatal to team productivity and employee retention than a rude, bullying boss.

Be Self-Serving

I worked for a senior VP for years who was a great teacher when it came to navigating the political jungle of C-level positions but he had one glaring and ultimately fatal flaw. When things were going well and the department was making its numbers, “we” did this and “we” did that. When things were going poorly there were individual people with “challenges.” He kept himself carefully if not prominently positioned in the limelight, ready at a moment’s notice to throw individuals under the bus if there was a problem. That character flaw was enough to rob the department of trust and eventually turn it into a festival of dysfunctionality. No one would commit to anything so they couldn’t be blamed for failure.

Be Obtuse

Great leaders can clearly define their goals and the part each employee plays in relation to that goal. When everyone is doing his or her part, there is demonstrable progress toward department objectives. If you want to undermine employee motivation and confidence, one of the better ways is not being clear about their job or objectives. Be vague, vaguely condescending, answer questions with questions and run your department or business with a constantly revolving set of priorities. People who aren’t clear on the goals will never be clear on their jobs.

Maintain an “Us vs Them” Atmosphere

Hanging out with the other executives, communicating through mid-level managers and email, and not bothering learning employee names are all great ways to maintain a demotivational work environment rooted in fear, misunderstanding and resentment. Market Basket should stand as a beacon of warning to executive boards all across the country. When execs forced out a popular CEO who cared greatly for his employees and customers, the company was hobbled by work stoppages and boycotts. In a rarely witnessed scene of defiance, customers and vendors joined employees in support of walkouts; Market Basket shelves sat empty. One of the family members finally relented and today the company is being sold to Arthur T. Demoulas, the recently fired CEO. Warehouse employees and vendors joined with previously fired managers and worked overnight to stock shelves and get the business operating again when the deal was announced.

Even if you can’t be the world’s best boss, hopefully you can avoid being the worst. Don’t be afraid to show people you care and ask for their support. You might be surprised at how your people respond.

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