In Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace, it was reported that only 15% of employees feel motivated and engaged at work. This lack of motivation is undoubtedly a problem for the workers themselves; however, it’s an even bigger problem for the leaders who are trying to coax high performance out of a group of people who feel psychologically disconnected from their jobs.
Some leaders might be prone to brush this problem under the rug and pretend that it doesn’t exist. Or, they might throw up their hands, complaining about “workers today,” and feel helpless to do anything about it. The reality is that organizations are implementing all sorts of new technologies and systems to streamline efficiencies, yet the people side of change is often being overlooked.
If you’re inundated with workers who have lost that passion for what they do, and wondering how to reignite their spark and increase morale, here are 5 approaches you can adopt:
1. Start with yourself
If you’ve got an unmotivated team, the logical starting point for finding a resolution is to look at what’s going on within the team, right? The truth is that yes, the core of the problem may well lie within your team itself… but what if it doesn’t? It’s natural to want to point the finger and place blame, especially when you’re striving to do things by the book, but it’s worth pausing and taking a moment to reflect upon how your team views you as a leader. Try to look at your leadership approach from your team’s perspective.
- Do you appear passionate about your work?
- Are you respectful and upbeat?
- Do you nit-pick and make your team feel like they can’t do anything right?
- Do you provide constructive feedback and praise a job well done?
- Do you follow the company culture?
- Do you set good examples?
- How do people feel when they are around you?
When I first mention this to leaders that I work with, I’m often met with that look that says ‘don’t be silly, it’s not MY fault.’Still, the Prudential Pulse of the American Worker special report suggested that only less than one third of employees feel that their manager has what it takes to successfully lead a team. Frequently, there is a disconnect between how effective managers think they are leading, and how their employees perceive them.
Therefore, by taking a good, hard look at your own leadership style, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re doing everything within your power to use yourself as an instrument to boost morale. I suggest starting with a thorough leadership inventory. If you’re unsure how to do this, my book The Consummate Leader outlines the steps in the inventory process.
2. Be blunt
We can spend all day taking guesses as to why a team is feeling unmotivated. Is it the workload? The tasks they’re doing? Are they bored? Are they lacking a good role model? We can guess and guess until the cows come home, but at the end of the day we’re no closer to understanding the root of the problem. Therefore, instead of making assumptions, it’s much more productive to just ask.
Taking an interest in your employees can make them feel more valued, and feeling more valued is key to boosting motivation in more than 90% of workers, according to the American Psychological Association. Depending on the characteristics of your team and your relationship with them, you may decide to schedule 1:1 meetings to discuss problems openly, or you could decide to draft up an anonymous survey which can make workers feel more comfortable sharing their feelings. Do what works for you.
3. Reassess workloads
Stress is a frequent challenge for many of the people I coach. I’ve found that trying to keep up with the demands to do more with less can cause some people to start to resent jobs that they previously might have enjoyed.
If your team members have been working hard, without any respite, they could be suffering from burnout; a nasty condition that affects around two thirds of all workers according to a Gallup study. I’ve written quite a bit about this in a previous blog post which looks at strategies for coping with burnout and finding balance, and it’s something that I’ve seen span practically every industry, from IT to healthcare.
The problem with burnout is that is creates both physical and psychological symptoms, so it not only makes people feel negatively about their job, but actually causes them to lose motivation through the physical signs of stress, like loss of appetite and headaches. Burnout is something that can progress quickly, so catching it early is vital. Consider if your employees are being given too much to handle, and delegate tasks keeping that in mind.
4. Look at the big picture
Depending on the size of the business, a failure to see the big picture can be a major reason for feeling unmotivated at work. In smaller organizations where there’s typically a more flexible organizational structure, it can be easy for employees to see where and how they fit into the work family. In larger businesses, however, which tend to be more segmented and departmentalized, it can be hard for employees to see exactly how their input affects the core business, and this can be pretty demotivating at times.
Ask your team about their career goals, and highlight how the work they’re doing not only benefits the business but also contributes to their own personal career growth. Aligning individual tasks with the bigger picture provides a much-needed sense of progress. In her book, The Progress Principle, Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile studied more than 10,000 diary entries from employees. She found that when workers felt like they were progressing and achieving, they noted feeling happier, more positive, and ultimately more motivated. Thus, by putting an emphasis on development, you might find that you’re better able to engage your team.
5. Take time for team building
One of the most important things that you can do is ensure that your employees feel that they are part of a team, and understand how instrumental they are in supporting the team structure. Team building activities are a great way to create a sense of camaraderie, and can even make work more fun, too. Give your team more of a chance to get to know one another and build a sense of trust. Whether you choose simple activities like celebrating birthdays or enjoying a team lunch, or more involved activities like having an off-site retreat facilitated by a consultant such as myself, you can create a greater sense of goodwill amongst team members that can lead to greater motivation.
In her article with Steven Kramer in the Harvard Business Review, Theresa Amabile argued that there are two factors related to increasing morale when you’re in charge of an unmotivated team: catalysts, and nourishers. Catalysts are those things that have a direct impact on workplace productivity, like streamlining work processes or establishing role clarity. Nourishers are different. Nourishers work to promote better health and wellbeing in employees, giving them the inner tools they need to generate feelings of positivity. Team building activities are fantastic nourishers, promoting ideas of mutual respect and emotional support that can affect how people perceive their jobs.