7 Ways You’re De-Motivating Your Employees

Unmotivated employees? It might be your own fault.
Your business's success depends on your employees success. Make sure you're doing everything you can to spark their inspiration. (Photo: aleg baranau/Shutterstock)

You want your company to succeed. You’ve seen to every detail, from drawing up a detailed business plan to handpicking a winning staff. But are you keeping those same stellar employees from reaching for the stars?

Even the the most well intentioned entrepreneurs can sometimes de-motivate their workers without even realizing it. NCR Silver asked leading HR pros about the ways that small business owners inadvertently sap staffers’ enthusiasm. Here are their eye-opening answers:

You let the rumor mill run wild. Are you introducing a new service for customers? Are you about to cut back on employee benefits due to a rise in costs? Make it known, and soon.

“When you don’t communicate with your employees, they come to their own conclusions, or they jump on the rumor mill and listen to everyone else,” warned HR consultant and career strategist Stefanie B. Lomax, founder of HRPro4You. Be upfront and honest, and you’ll keep your workers from frittering away their time and mental energy in frenzied gossip and speculation.

You invest most of your time coaching your weakest performers. Everyone knows that a team is only as strong as its weakest player, right? Wrong, said Larry Sternberg, co-author of the new book Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley).

Your job is to bring out the best in everyone, not just a lagging team member, he said. By focusing more energy on employees with the most potential, you motivate them and help move your entire organization forward, Sternberg said. Leverage other members on your team to help bring your weakest link up to speed — and yes, consider replacing your problem employee if he or she really can’t perform to expectations, he said.

You spread your employees too thinly. “It’s a significant issue that organizations need to pay attention to,” said Jana Tulloch, an HR professional with DevelopIntelligence.

Yes, empowerment is great, and so is the chance to try on many hats. But if your machinist also has to answer the phone and deal with irate customers at the counter, how well will she get any of those jobs done? The feeling that “I can’t succeed at anything,” will creep in, and you’ll have a disillusioned, exhausted worker on your hands… or headed out the door.

Related: What’s Destroying Your Employees’ Productivity and How to Fix it

You micromanage. Jill Santropietro, of 21Oak HR Consulting, actually calls it “over-controlling,” explaining, “It’s the idea that the person at the top of the small business has to have a hand on every single thing.”

It’s a situation she deals with frequently: “With my clients of five, six, 10 or 20 employees, I often see leaders who are personally involved in every minute aspect. It leaves employees feeling undervalued.” Instead of feeling like they are contributing to the success of the company, micromanaged employees find themselves as simply becoming task monkeys. The result: “If often leads them to start looking for a job where they can really contribute,” she said.


Micro-managed employees will often search for jobs elsewhere that will make them feel more fulfilled.  (Photo: SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock)

Related: Is Your Management Style Hurting Your Small Business?

You don’t truly listen to your employees’ ideas. Sure, you’re incredibly busy, and you have your own vision for your company, but tuning out your employees’ suggestions, or just saying “nice idea,” but never implementing those great brainstorms, can backfire badly, said Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting.

“An owner of a small company can at times come across as too dictatorial,” he explained. It’s an image that will especially rub millennials the wrong way, since they’re used to being heard out. “It’s important to treat all employees as adults,” Kimer stressed.

Related: How to Manage Millennials In the Workplace

You don’t have a formal evaluation process. Think that performance reviews are strictly for the big guys? Think again.

Job performance reviews are a valuable chance for employees to receive some one-on-one praise and also learn what they should be working on if they’d like to move ahead. Sitting down with your staffers and reminding them they have plenty of runway room is one of the most powerful motivators there is. So set up an evaluation schedule and make sure “it’s an effective one that also focuses on continuous feedback,” recommended Gretchen C. Bellamy of Bellamy Management Consulting.

You keep saying “We’re all a family here.” While a noble concept, just telling your employees that they’re family doesn’t always translates into a great company culture, said Santopietro. “That means being invested in each others’ successes, being flexible and understanding of people’s work-life balance and communicating openly as a team. But I often find that ‘we are family’ turns out to be code for ‘We are dysfunctional and unprofessional and we’re going to make you put up with a lot of crap,’” she said.

Related: How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

“If you’re not organized, professional and functional, seek out help from business or HR consultants to get there, or risk losing key players.” In today’s tight employment market, she adds, “employees won’t choose to stay with you if you’re more like the Bundys than the Bradys.”

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