Managing Teams

4 Reasons Your Team Isn’t Motivated (And What You Can Do to Fix It)

employee motivation

People want different things in life. So it’s difficult to generalize what works as an effective motivational strategy for any particular individual. Often, managers make the mistake of assuming what motivates them will also motivate their employees.

Employees feature both intrinsic motivations, which stem from their internal satisfaction with their work, as well as extrinsic motivation, which can take the form of pay, title promotion, and benefits. Workers who find their jobs rewarding on both these fronts perform better and are more committed to their jobs.

Approximately 40% of success in team projects depends on the motivation of employees. The main challenge in determining successful motivational strategies is understanding why workers lack motivation. Once you discover what causes the problem, you can adopt effective solutions.

4 Factors That Lead to Low Employee Motivation

Jumping to conclusions and employing misguided motivational techniques can actually make an employee less motivated and hurt their overall performance and productivity.

For example, if a worker feels they are unable to complete a job, encouraging them to work harder may only cause a worker to give up on the task entirely.

But we all want to succeed. Sometimes we just need help getting there. Here are four common areas that undermine employee motivation and how you can address them.

1. Workers Don’t Value Their Tasks

Sometimes tasks assigned to employees do not match what they value or find meaningful. Workers may display increased apathy in these cases.

When this occurs, managers need to highlight what the employee cares about and connect it with the task at hand. Zoomshift cofounder Jon Hainstock says, “The best way to motivate your employees is to figure out what makes them tick and align their personal and professional goals with their role in your company as best you can.” 

One approach is to connect the job with something that the employee finds intrinsically stimulating. For example, you can help the employee recognize their impact on the organization to provide a sense of purpose. Sometimes this tactic works best if you relate their performance to the effect it has on their peers, or discuss their work in relation to broader career goals, like a promotion. Alternatively, you can stress the skill set needed to complete the task to make the employee feel more engaged if there are aspects of the work they enjoy or find interesting.

2. Too Little or Too Much Self-Efficacy

Workers may lack motivation as a result of insufficient confidence in their abilities. If employees feel incapable of completing a task, they won’t have the drive to do it.

Building an employee’s confidence can make all the difference if one of your top performers hits a slump. Remind the employee of their past success or provide examples of others who overcame similar difficulties.

On the other hand, employees with heightened self-efficacy require another approach. Sometimes employees feel over-qualified to perform a necessary task. In these situations, highlight the possibility that they have misjudged the task requirements and convince them to try another method that could produce better or more reliable results.

3. Workers Are Emotionally Distracted

Anxiety and frustration affect everyone at times. No matter the source of their unhappiness, managers must find ways to get the most out of their employees.

Find a private setting to discuss matters with a troubled employee. Engage in active listening and identify the issues at hand. Feeling understood will help soften their emotions–and when employees feel like their manager cares about them, they’re also likely to feel more motivated.

When someone feels threatened, they’ll probably respond with anger. So try to reframe the current problems with their work as accidental or mistaken rather than being intentional. Issues with depression and anxiety are better handled by focusing on the need to employ more effective strategies to deal with current tasks.

4. Workers Feel Lost

It is sometimes difficult to figure out why someone has trouble finishing a task. This helplessness feels worse when employees blame factors that are beyond their control.

Work with the employee to identify their difficulties together. Once you discuss the root causes, tasks often seem more manageable.

If someone claims that their problem stems from something beyond their control, suggest alternatives that they do control, such as the need for a different approach or more careful planning.

Then, encourage them to push ahead. Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom found that once he puts in five minutes on a task that he has been putting off, he’s much more motivated to finish.

When employee motivation isn’t quite where it needs to be, productivity suffers. Money isn’t always the answer. Research by Princeton economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that once employees make around $75,000, more money isn’t a compelling extrinsic motivator.

But an effective manager will intervene to help the employee get back on track. Identifying the underlying problem is the first step toward applying the right motivating pressure and increasing productivity.

About the Author

James Young is a writer, professor, and founder of Pro English Writers. He actively promotes equality, poverty reduction, and access to education through various programs and charities. Based in Southeast Asia, James holds an MBA and teaches international trade and economics courses at a top-ranked university in South Korea.