Performance Management Blog

Workplace Motivation Improvement – Easy!

It is commonly believed that the fate of many companies could be altered for the better if workers were more motivated. They do not blame the senior managers, who are all-knowing and totally dedicated because their earnings are all tied to performance. Companies and Managers blame the front line employees for not being motivated to delivery service or manufacture quality. Okay, maybe the people are also at fault, but is it really the fault of the workers?

(see a great article posted up on data from Gallup shared by Jim Clifton)

So, companies will often implement a climate survey and, sure enough, they find that the employees are dis-engaged and less than supporting. Gallop surveys on engagement show that only 3% of workers in Japan, where I write this, are engaged. And only 24% are enrolled. Fully 16% and 56% are dis-engaged and dis-enchanted with the way things are in their workplaces

So, when things are going wrong, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the workers for their poor attitudes and lack of work ethic. But might there be some other cause?

Demotivators drive motivation away — they are performance inhibitors unintentionally built into the way most of us do business. One often hears of “unintended consequences” when it comes to changes that generate unanticipated results. The reality, though, is that there are few real Unintended Consequences when it comes to worker motivation – a bit of “due diligence,” like talking to employees, would quickly smoke out the foreseeable problems that might occur.

Sometimes, the workers feel that the managers are their adversaries, as opposed to their business improvement partners. This can generate a situation where Defense is one of the useful self-preservation strategies, as depicted below:

Workers WILL defend themselves from management

Workers WILL defend themselves from management attacks

Demotivators of all kinds have profound negative impacts on performance, yet they are often ignored because they are considered normal in the workplace. Sometimes, they slowly creep into an organization and become part of normal operations. A lot of the fear and anger, both expressed and repressed, that appears in organizations today is controllable, but not from a manager’s desk.

And, in most workplaces, we find that workers will say that they are choosing not to give work their full attention and that they could do a better job. But no one asks them to and they are simply allowed to de-motivate themselves over time.

They can result in negative behavior by employees and even affect their health. Some research has shown that 84% of workers say they could perform better if they want to and 50% of workers said they put forth only enough effort to hang onto their jobs.

To quote Dean Spitzer (“Supermotivating the Workforce”, 1996): “Too many managers underestimate the importance of what they consider minor irritations, not realizing how large these irritations loom in the subjective experience of employees. To employees stuck in the middle, these demotivators are not minor at all.”

Spitzer lists 21 demotivators. The list follows. The six most-troubling ones identified by Spitzer are denoted with an “*.”

*1) Politics;
*2) Unclear Expectations;
3) Unnecessary Rules;
*4) Poorly Designed Work; 5) Unproductive Meetings; 6) Lack of Follow-Up;
7) Constant Change;
8) Internal Competition;
9) Dishonesty (Being lied to and lots of executive “spin”);
*10) Hypocrisy (“Walking the talk”);
11) Withholding Information;
12) Unfairness (Perceived preferential treatment):
13) Discouraging Responses (to ideas);
14) Criticism (atmosphere);
15) Capacity Underutilization (of individuals);
16) Tolerating Poor Performance;
*17) Being Taken for Granted;
18) Management Invisibility;
19) Overcontrol;
20) Takeaways (of past entitlements./privileges);
*21) Being Forced to Do Poor-Quality Work.

Take a look at the list and ask youself if you could find some of those at your job or at a client’s operation. Ask yourself if any of those could be changed. These kinds of things appear as intentional slowdowns, careless mistakes, unsafe behavior, absenteeism or sickness-related job absence, tardiness and theft, among other things.

How do you deal with the de-motivators? Take steps to systematically remove them, one at a time. It is really pretty straightforward, so here are some ideas:

1 – engage everyone in conversations about workplace improvement, recognizing that everyone will have ideas about what could be done differently

2 – involve key leaders in the workplace in getting some things changed and improved, since they have a history of doing those kinds of things

3 – make sure goals and expectations are clear and install really good performance feedback systems. (I do not mean performance appraisals, I mean ways of allowing people to see the results of their actions)

4 – make sure everyone understands the overall mission and vision and knows how their work plays a role in getting things done. People DO want to do important work

5 – improve communications and allow people to share their ideas

6 – improve communications and allow people to share their ideas (yeah, I KNOW that I said that one twice!)

7 – make sure that you focus on recognizing any improvements that occur, both individual as well as workgroup

8 – allow some natural teamwork to occur.

Square Wheels are everywhere. Ask people for their Round Wheeel Ideas!

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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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