9 Surefire Ways to Demotivate Your Employees

Employees and their emotions

Few things are as costly and disruptive to a business as managers who kill morale. Demotivated employees underperform, and then jump ship at the first opportunity.

What’s scary is how prevalent this lack of motivation is. Gallup research shows that 70% of employees consider themselves to be disengaged at work.

Organizations know the importance of motivated, engaged employees, but most fail to hold managers accountable for making it happen.


The best way to motivate employees: Stop demotivating them

Most managers don’t demotivate their employees on purpose.

They act improperly without thinking about what damage they are doing to the enthusiasm and motivation of their employees.

So, it would appear to make sense that when companies recognize their workers with awards, they are likely to see a boost in morale and maybe even inspire them to work harder (e.g. ‘Employee of the Month’ awards given out to increase morale and inspire them to work harder).

Not so fast…studies show that motivational incentives like this don’t always work and often have the opposite effect. Employee of the Month programs—one winner and all the rest are losers. How motivational is that?

Instead, if employers took away the demotivating factors rather than offer motivational incentives, they would see more productivity and happier employees.

It’s not surprising: Employees don’t leave jobs—they leave managers

When recognition and incentive programs are designed properly and implemented thoughtfully, they can serve as great vehicles to motivate employees and reward them for their success.

But, when executed poorly the fallout can create animosity, resentment, and even anger among employees.

To create motivated, engaged employees, there are some critical behaviors that managers need to eliminate from the workplace.

Here are 9 actions and behaviors that demotivate employees and undermine recognition and rewards programs.


1)     Fail to recognize achievements

It’s easy to underestimate the power of a pat on the back, especially with top performers who are naturally motivated. Everyone likes a little praise, especially those who work hard and give their all.

Rewarding individual accomplishments shows that you’re paying attention.

Communicate with employees to find out what makes them feel good. For some, it’s money and benefits; for others, it’s work/life balance, while others appreciate praise. It’s a manager’s role to assess, understand and meet different motivational needs.

One way to do this is to meet with employees and discuss what would help them in their role and what negatively affects their productivity, and reward them accordingly them for a job well done.


2)     Hire and promote the wrong people

When managers don’t get it right and hire the wrong people, it’s a major demotivation for those stuck working with them. Promoting the wrong people is even worse!

According to Robert Half International, 95% of financial executives surveyed indicated that making a bad hire at least somewhat affects the morale of the team, and 35% said a poor hire greatly influences employee morale.

When you work your tail off only to get passed over for a promotion that’s given to someone less deserving, it’s a huge insult and morale killer—no wonder good people leave.

Good, hard-working employees want to work with like-minded professionals.

Think about the key people on your team and ask yourself, “If I knew what I know today and this person walked through the door, would I hire them? Yes or no?” This question forces objectivity; it helps you think clearly. If the answer is no, you know what you need to do.

Design and implement practices to determine whether potential candidates are the right fit for your organization’s culture and work style. 


3)     Don’t follow through on commitments

Making promises to people places you on the fine line between making them very happy and watching them walk out the door.

When you uphold a commitment, you advance in the eyes of employees because you prove yourself to be honorable and trustworthy—two very important qualities in a boss.

But when you disregard your commitment, you come across as rude and uncaring. After all, if the boss doesn’t honor his or her commitments, why should everyone else?

Follow-through is obviously tied to time management. Make time to plan ahead and prioritize goals.

To become an expert at following through, you need to get organized. Keep task lists, hold regular meetings, and learn how to delegate are the basic steps.


4)     Treat everyone equally

It goes without saying that all employees should be treated fairly, but that doesn’t mean treat them all equally. This tactic works with school children—the workplace should operate differently.

Treating everyone equally tells your top performers that no matter how well they perform—and, typically, top performers are work horses—they will be treated the same as the slacker who does nothing more than punch the clock.

To be truly effective, be thoughtful in your approach to giving individual employees what they need, knowing that the needs will likely vary from person to person.

By finding the right balance between accommodating individual preferences and maintaining workplace harmony, your employees will not only feel recognized and valued but also they’ll have the space and support they need to engage more closely and conscientiously with their work.


5)     Tolerate poor performance

Like the proverb says: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” No matter how strong the rest may be, the weakest link can break the chain.

The same goes for a company: Your team is only as strong as its weakest member. When you permit weak links to exist without consequence, they drag everyone else down, especially your top performers.

For performance management to be successful, the culture of the business should encourage ongoing feedback and discussion about performance issues in open and supportive environments.

It’s far better for everyone if you speak up as soon as you see a problem—and speak honestly. Your silence could have a very negative effect.

The longer that poor performance is allowed to continue, the more difficult a satisfactory resolution becomes, and the more the overall credibility of the organization may suffer.


6)     Don’t encourage development and offer opportunities for growth

Repeating the same tasks and responsibilities, without new challenges, can negatively affect our attitudes, and this is no different in the work environment.

Employees understand that continued learning is the best way to remain current and employable, so to ignore this will only hinder your employees, and your business.

Good talented people justifiably want to advance their career and appreciate meaningful support in the process.

Let employees know about training, mentoring, and coaching opportunities that are in place to help them learn and develop.

New projects and more responsibility can help to improve motivation, while regular workshops and online learning programs can help to disseminate information and improve skills among employees.


7)     Be disinterested

More than half of people who leave their jobs do so because of their relationship with their boss.

Bosses who fail to truly care will always have high turnover rates. It’s impossible to work for someone eight hours a day when they aren’t personally involved and care about nothing but your productivity.

It’s tempting to fall into the trap of working your best people hardest. Overworking good employees is counterproductive and makes them feel as if they’re being punished for their great performance.

Research from Stanford shows that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and productivity drops off so much after 55 hours that you don’t get anything out of the extra work.

Smart managers know how to balance being professional with being human.

Successful bosses celebrate an employee’s success, empathize with those going through difficult times, and challenge people—even when it hurts.

Take a genuine interest in employees’ work-life balance—nothing burns out good employees quite like overworking them.


8)     Don’t provide clear direction/communication

Managers fail to set criteria and give people clear expectations so they don’t know what is required of them and wonder why they fail.

If every task becomes a priority, people will soon believe that there are no priorities. More importantly, they will never feel as if they have successfully accomplished an entire task or goal.

Employees want to know what’s expected of them. They also want to know that management is paying attention to their efforts and accomplishments.

Leaders must be clear about performance– communicating goals and expectations, and also providing feedback.

Giving people a consistent message and providing tools to address challenges creates ambassadors throughout the organization.

Schedule weekly check-ins with your team to find out how things are going and to clarify direction. Ask them candidly how you’re doing in providing clarity.


9)     Don’t empower employees/micromanage

It’s difficult to take ownership and focus on being productive with your boss leaning over you, monitoring your every move—like a babysitter.

When managers demand to sign off on all work assignments, employees are often left waiting for approval on several projects at a time and find themselves scrambling to meet looming deadlines.

Micromanaging kills creativity, chases away top talent, and results in average workers.

Times are changing: Micromanagement is dead (at least it should be), and employee empowerment is on the rise. Organizations understand the need to be more team centric and are refocusing on the importance of developing leadership skills within their employees.

What is empowerment? It’s treating each individual as a trusted person who values ownership of his or her responsibilities. Help employees understand that their input is valued even if you decide to take a different course. Acknowledge them for sharing their ideas, and reward valuable input that helps the company.

Give employees reasons and opportunity to build and stretch their skills, and even lead others.

A 2014 American Psychological Association study found that when employees felt valued by their employers, 92% of them felt satisfied in their roles, and 91% said they were motivated to do their best.

Pulling it together

A highly motivated workforce feels empowered by their work and valued by the organization. When it comes to keeping your employees motivated, there are a number of factors to keep in mind—from communicating goals and expectations to showing interest in your employees’ professional aspirations. The right approach paves the way to a well-balanced workplace and ensures the future success of your business.

  • Let employees know when they do something notable; conversely, provide constructive feedback when they do something wrong
  • Ensure that employees understand expectations and have clear goals to work towards
  • Be consistent and fair in any disciplinary procedures
  • Provide opportunities for skills training and career development
  • Be the positive example for your employees to follow