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Last Updated on March 17, 2020

7 Things That Decrease Team Motivation (Without You Even Noticing)

7 Things That Decrease Team Motivation (Without You Even Noticing)

Economies are cyclical, there’s just no getting around this fact. And while these last several years have seen an abundance of economic growth, we should all remember the wisdom found on King Solomon’s ring that said,

“This too shall pass.”

In fact, for those who joined the workforce only in the last decade, they have never experienced an economic downturn or recession. The last one started in 2007 and lasted until 2009.[1] So, it’s safe to assume that for a significant number of employees and managers, the next economic downturn will be their first time dealing with the stressors of mandatory layoffs, budget cuts and reorganization.

Motivating teams is never easy; even in good times, team motivation can be difficult to maintain. Just checkout amazon’s collection of books on how to motivate employees, you’ll find thousands on the subject.

But, now add in difficult times for the business, industry or economy and you’ve got a whole new set of problems. Whereas before your employees felt reasonably secure that if they performed well, they could count on having a job tomorrow. Now they can’t, and this lack of security is an added layer of stress that will affect morale and performance.

And while it may be tempting to take the attitude that they should just be grateful just to have a job in these times, that would be a mistake. Fear is actually a demotivating factor. Sure, everyone wants to keep their job, especially in tough times, but uncertainty and fear are distractions that damage effectiveness and hurt productivity.

As a leader, maintaining team motivation during difficult times can be challenging. Issues that might have been a minor annoyance in good times can become magnified into problems that affect the motivation and productivity of your entire team.

Here’re 7 factors that demotivate employees and 7 ways to tackle them:

1. Fear

We touched on this earlier, uncertainty and fear go hand in hand. Fear is a perfectly natural, and most of the time good human emotion. It is designed to keep us safe in the face of dangerous situations. Fear only becomes a problem when it prevents us from making beneficial decisions.

We can imagine our ancestors confronting a sabre tooth tiger and becoming so paralyzed by fear that they get eaten. In today’s world, you are much more likely to becoming paralyzed by internal fears than external ones like the tiger, but it is no less debilitating.

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These internal fears start out as legitimate concerns. Times are tough, others are being laid off or fired, you could be next. But, as often happens with fears, they grow and become exaggerated in the mind. This is when fear can disrupt team motivation and impact productivity.

What You Can Do

From a leader’s standpoint, you need to understand that most of your employee’s exaggerated fears come from an inaccurate assessment of the conditions. From their point of view, the decisions on who gets let go can seem arbitrary and inexplicable. It’s the seemingly randomness of these decisions that fuels the anxiety and fear of I could be next.

So, as a manager, it’s very important that you are constantly communicating with your team on the status of the company and their place within it. Even if that means letting them know that they are being considered for the next round of layoffs.

Letting your employees know exactly where they stand, even if it’s not good, is better for motivation than the uncertainty of not knowing. It can also be a great way to motivate your team into action. Especially if you can give them concrete goals to achieve that will help their prospects of staying employed.

2. Unclear Goals

During good times, employees may be happy to just sit back and do their jobs with little thought of how they are impacting the company as a whole. During difficult times, when you are asking your employees to do more with less, it’s important that they understand how each member contributes to the success of the team.

What You Can Do

As a leader, it’s your job to set clear, obtainable goals for the group as well as the individuals within that group. This is especially important during difficult times, as often the priorities of an organization will change.

During tough economic times, new business ventures and expansions are often cut back or eliminated in order to focus on the “core” business. When this happens, you may need to switch your teams focus entirely to save your and everyone else’s jobs.

But here again, communication with your team members is key. Keep them apprised of any changes to the goals and how it affects their individual roles within the team.

As a leader, you can actually increase your team’s motivation if everyone has a clear understanding of the goals and their role in achieving those goals.

3. Lack of Autonomy

It may seem logical that when times get tough, you should take more control or supervise your teams more closely. After all, the pressure is on to turn out good results.

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But study after study show us that a lack of autonomy kills both individual and team motivation.[2] In fact, giving your team more autonomy is one of the best ways to improve motivation and results.

What You Can Do

Go against your instincts to control. Micromanaging it guaranteed to reduce team motivation.

Now, with that being said, granting your team or employees autonomy does NOT mean that they can do whatever they want.

As a leader, you need to set the basic framework or conditions that they need to work under. Things like timeframe, budget constraints and the functionality of the final product should all be known conditions for your team. But once those conditions are set, let your team decide how to attack the problem. This allows for creativity to flourish and provides a sense of pride and ownership over the finished product that is highly motivating.

4. Change

Humans are creatures of habit, we get used to a routine and stick with it even if what we’re doing isn’t helpful. Having a routine provides a sense of comfort and security critical to our mental health. This is why psychologist note that all change produces stress.

Even good changes can be highly stressful, think getting married, divorced, having kids or getting promoted. There’s no way around it, change is disruptive and stressful.

Now, put yourself in a position where your industry is in a downturn and things need to change in order to survive. For the industry veteran, the old ways of doing things are now obsolete and an entire new skill set must be learned. For the new employee, the job they do may look nothing like the job they were hired for.

In short, the old comfortable routines have been interrupted and keeping up team motivation on these shifting sands is difficult.

What You Can Do

Be alert and watch for signs. Change is tough for everyone, but some people are more resilient than others.

If you notice one of your employees having an especially hard time, it’s important to address the situation. Often, there are challenges in the person’s personal life that are adding to the stress they feel. In those cases, temporarily reducing their workload or giving them an extra afternoon off can help reduce stress and increase motivation.

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For everyone else, a good rule of thumb is “The more information you can share, the better”. Nothing zaps motivation and fuels insecurity more than a lack of knowledge.

5. Ambiguity in Short Term Goals

Ambiguity is a motivation killer. In order for any team to function well, each member must have a clear understanding of the ultimate or long-term goal of the team. From there, each team member is assigned tasks that contribute to the completion of that goal. In turn, each member can break down their task into individual steps or short-term goals that, when completed get added to the whole.

But what happens when we change the original long-term goal? Even if everyone understands and accepts the new goal, they need to have a clear understanding of their new role in achieving it. It would be similar to starting a new job without any training or guidance from a superior.

What You Can Do

Anytime a mission or goal is changed, it is important for a leader to assign each member of the team a clear role within the group. This should include responsibilities as well as expectations for their assigned tasks.

Depending on the individual, you may also need to help them breakdown their tasks into short term goals on a timeline. As long as your team understands their new goal and the members have a clear understanding of their individual responsibilities in achieving the goal, there should be no problem with ambiguity.

6. Burnout

During difficult times, asking our workforce to do more with less just comes with the territory. But the consequence of this can be burnout. According to the World Health Organization, work related burnout is defined as:[3]

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

Over time, burnout will zap your team’s motivation, morale and productivity. The symptoms of burnout include:

  • Becoming cynical or critical at work.
  • Coming to work and have trouble getting started.
  • Becoming irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients.
  • Lacking the energy to be consistently productive.
  • Being unable to concentrate.
  • Lack satisfaction from achievements.
  • Feeling disillusioned about their job.
  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel.
  • Being troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints.
What You Can Do

Leaders need to be aware of these symptoms and take corrective action as soon as possible. Some things you can do to help with burnout include:

  • Talk to your team members about their workload and stress. Do they have any thoughts on how to do things better or more efficiently? Maybe that weekly report they do can be a bi-weekly report instead.
  • Increase the use of non-monetary rewards such as praise (both public and private). Recognition programs such as employee of the week, month, year. And even instituting “Casual Fridays” can be a morale booster.
  • Increase the use of low-cost monetary rewards like, morning donuts, buying lunch for the team and taking the occasional Friday afternoon off.
  • Flextime is another great way to combat burnout. It gives the employee a chance to spend more time with their family and also gives them a sense of control over their time.

7. Feeling Under-appreciated

During difficult times, upper management will often tighten the reins on employees. And while they see it as a way to control costs and focus on core issues, it can be disheartening to the average employee.

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Whereas management used to be open to ideas and suggestions from those in the “trenches” now, more and more decisions are being made unilaterally from the top. This stifles creativity and turns the employees into “cogs in a machine”.

What You Can Do

Communicate the changing parameters and scope of work coming from management as soon as possible. Then, give them as much decision-making authority as you can.

They may not be happy that their budget got cut by 20%, but if they have a say in how that money is allocated it’s a much easier pill to swallow.

Bottom Line

Motivation is a tricky thing, what motivates one person may not motivate another. But, as a manager or leader, it’s your job to manage your teams in a way that produces the best result possible.

During difficult times, whether they are caused by the broader economy or management missteps, being able to motivate your team is critical for survival.

We’ve talked about the challenges of team motivation during difficult times and some of the ways you can handle it. But, when you boil it all down it can be summed up in one word, communication.

Having open communication with your team clarifies their job descriptions and role within the company. It reduces the fear and anxiety associated with the inevitable changes that occur during these times. And finally, it allows your team to have a clear understanding of the issues facing the company and the plan to overcome them.

More Tips for Team Management

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

David Carpenter

Lifelong entrepreneur and business owner helping others to realize the American Dream of business ownership

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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