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The 6 Best Practices to Kill Employee Motivation and Engagement

The 6 Best Practices to Kill Employee Motivation and Engagement

I challenge anyone reading this article to find a single organization that wants lower employee motivation and engagement. Yet, you can find hundreds of articles and studies that indicate both are on the downslide. In current times of leaner employment, management continually tries to squeeze more and more out of each employee. This squeezing process can last for a short while, but is not sustainable long-term. Eventually the system, the employee, or both will break. Take this quiz to see if you are excelling at killing employee motivation and engagement. On a regular basis, do you (or your manager) provide:

1. Deficient Communication

According to a study conducted several years ago by Magna Leadership Solutions, the number-one problem recognized by both management and employees is communication. Usually, the communication is insufficient or improper. If you are a good boss, most employees enjoy more face time with you, especially when it is positive. Some employees just want some communication that can be accomplished face-to-face, on the phone, through a note, or even in a short email. A good rule of thumb is that if the communication could elicit emotion (positive or negative) from the receiver, then face-to-face (or at least a phone call) is most appropriate. For communications that are more transactional, the other, less-personal forms of communication may be sufficient.

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2. Insufficient Encouragement

In his book “Breakthrough Performance,” author Bill Daniels stresses the importance of providing encouragement that is specific, pure, positive, immediate, frequent and irregular. One key thing I’ve learned as a manager is that providing insufficient encouragement is among the two top ways to ensure you’re killing your employees’ motivation and engagement. The next section outlines the other one.

3. Inappropriate Advice

These six rules also come from Bill Daniels. Advice should: address the change desired, be current (only focus on now, don’t bring in history), be pure (no “buts”), be delivered just before it can be used (not after, or it will be viewed as punishment), be limited, and ask for feedback. Breaking any one or more of these rules will lessen or negate the impact and results of the advice. In addition, advice and encouragement should always be delivered separately, or it sends a mixed message and will be viewed as punishment.

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4. Inadequate Rewards

I am not telling you that all accomplishments need to be extrinsically rewarded. It is important that well-done accomplishments, which are above and beyond what is expected, do receive the appropriate level of compensation in some form. Learn what you employees want and reward them in a way that they most appreciate.

5. Too Much Team Recognition

This one may seem less intuitive. People like recognition, but when it is blanketed over a team (and individual contributions are minimized), it may be more detrimental than no recognition at all. As work has become more and more complex, getting work or projects accomplished in teams as become the norm. The increased speed of communication — thanks to computers, mobile devices and the increased bandwidth of wired and wireless communications — have made it easier than ever to get anything, from anywhere and from anyone. To combat the team recognition problem, the recognition should be appropriate for the level of individual contribution —which means do your homework up-front on defining expectations, and continuously monitor individual and team performance. If you decide to deliver team recognition and there is an additional level of individual recognition needed, you may want to deliver this privately first.

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6. Rationed Resources

As we reduce our resources (people, funding, equipment, training, etc.), we need to ensure that the short-term financial change is not causing longer-term problems that often cannot be reversed. Downsizing and cost-cutting has been the modus operandi for many organizations for the past 10+ years, if not longer. Today, management continues to try to squeeze that last drop of blood out of every stone until something breaks. One of the primary functions of management is to be a resource, or provide resources, to support the employees’ and the organization’s success. How did you do on the quiz? We are caught up in our day-to-day activities and expect to have employee engagement on autopilot. One manager I coached told me “The employees know what they have to do. They are getting paid aren’t they? And I’m not their mother.” This is a very Machiavellian approach thinking about employees as disposable resources. In times with lean job opportunities, this management approach may survive. As we are seeing hundreds of thousands of new jobs being created each month and unemployment on a steady decline since 2010, it is becoming a seller’s (employee) market. Your unmotivated and disengaged employees are or will be out looking for a better environment to work in. Take the first step by quickly removing one or more of the six practices that kill motivation and engagement from your workplace. The workforce will thank you for it.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Marc Lombardi via marclombardi.zenfolio.com

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More by this author

Dr. Kevin Gazzara

Senior partner at Magna Leadership Solutions

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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