The Dos And Don’ts Of Managing People: How To Mend Broken Morale

Perhaps you’ve encountered this before in your career: You get an exciting, challenging position in an outstanding company. It should be a dream job, and on paper it is. The work is interesting, the salary is good and the organization provides numerous benefits.

Yet somehow, it just doesn’t gel. You feel dissatisfied and demoralized, you yearn for somewhere else, but you just can’t put your finger on the causes of demotivation. Or you’ve been hired to lead a team, but no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to raise morale. You know that you need to inspire them because the consequences of employee demotivation don’t bear thinking about.

There are innumerable reasons that cause workplace demotivation and low morale, and they vary depending on the individual. One of the biggest causes of demotivation, however, is the relationship between managers and their teams.

As a manager, you may have, even unwittingly, created disaffection. If this is the case, you will find that no matter what you do, you’ll never quite hit the heights of success. The stakes can be high – the impact of satisfied and dissatisfied employees on the workplace can make or break a business.

Employee dissatisfaction in the workplace isn’t rare: A 2014 Gallup poll discovered that less than a third of workers in the US felt motivated by their jobs. When you consider that the same poll suggests that more than two-thirds of an employee’s motivation is as a direct result of the influence of their manager, it’s easy to see that one of the key skills you need to have as a team leader is to know how to keep employees positive and satisfied, and to deal with demotivation if and when it does happen.

The effects of poor motivation in the workplace are well-attested: higher employee turnover, lower levels of engagement, poor communication, and diminished productivity are just a few of the issues that may proliferate and lead to your workplace become a toxic environment.

So, how does a manager motivate and encourage staff? What are the dos and don’ts of managing employees with low morale and avoiding the potentially devastating negative impact of demotivated team members? Here are some ideas to consider and suggestions for how to jump-start demotivated staff and foster positive, productive employees.

Poor management style: start by examining yourself

If you’re a manager and you’re having an issue with employee demotivation, you might want to start by looking at your management style. One of the most significant causes of demotivation is micromanagement: Being overly zealous about what each team member is doing and when is a surefire to breed discontent, as it may be perceived as a lack of trust in other people’s abilities. Remember, your employees were recruited on the basis of their skills and abilities, so let them get on with the job and trust them to do it well.

Related to this, it’s important to bear in mind that autonomy is a crucial factor to produce motivated, engaged employees. If a manager is figuratively breathing down a team member’s neck all day, every day, it’s obvious that that spirit of independence isn’t going to happen.

Having rules that just don’t work

Right up there with micromanagement as one of the causes of employee demotivation is having idiosyncratic, or just plain odd, rules. Of course, organizations have to have rules – they couldn’t function otherwise – but if they are illogical, unfair or unnecessarily harsh, they will breed discontent. And yes, each manager will have his or her own style of doing things, but it should be a style that accommodates their team members.

When it comes to making rules, one of the very best approaches is to consult with your team as to what those rules could be. A collaborative approach means that each employee takes ownership and responsibility of them, and their motivation will increase.

An inconsistent approach

The consistency of your management approach is another powerful factor that can, if not tended to, be one of the causes of demotivation. If employees feel as if they are being treated inconsistently – for example, that one person in the team seems to get preferential treatment, or tasks are unfairly distributed – then motivation will plummet.

A great manager will have clear, consistent goals, targets, and expectations of their team. Clearly defined parameters help your employees to understand where they stand and assure them of how consistent you are.

Treating everyone just the same just demotivates

Treating everyone equally sounds great, but in fact, in a corporate environment, it can be damaging to overall staff morale and motivation. If your most outstanding, productive employees know that they will be treated exactly the same as the least productive team member, what will happen to how they feel about work? Equally, it means that those low performers will feel no incentive to improve. Result: demotivation all round.

A good manager will find a solution in this through treating his or her team equitably rather than equally – in other words, they’ll deal with employees with justice, not blind similarity. It’s evident that having clear rules applied consistently will help you to achieve this aim. You want your very best employees to be the example for all your team to aspire to. One way of doing this is knowing when your employees need support, and when they just need to be left alone to get on with doing what they do best.

Ignoring achievements

One thing that can lead to a distinct lack of employee motivation is the absence of praise, or simple recognition of a job well done. It’s not enough to know that you’ve done your work well: It’s vital that it’s seen as such by your peers and managers. A good team leader will instinctively understand when to recognize achievement and give praise, and importantly, how much. A plain ‘Well done!’ may have a significantly greater impact on one team member than on another.

Shying away from being a leader – and not being the example

You are (or should be) a manager for a reason – you can lead people. So why is it that so many managers, well, don’t manage? Some adopt a ‘do as I say, don’t do as I do’ approach: Others may appear at times to be afraid of their own shadows. Either direction will have a significant and adverse effect on motivation. If a manager is essentially just going through the motions and behaving apathetically to their own role, it’s surely obvious that his or her team will do the same.

Instead, you should lead by example. Don’t shy from difficult tasks. Pull your team together when you need to tackle a hard job and demonstrate what you can do. Show persistence and determination to get the work done, and do so with the minimum of fuss and drama.

At the same time, do not shy away from being a leader – make the important decisions, delegate and apportion work where necessary, encourage your team to do the very best they can. Most importantly, however, show yourself to be principled, consistent and fair. Do this, and you’ll find employee morale rocket.

Communication is not a one-way street

Perhaps one of the greatest of motivating and demotivating factors is how you communicate with your employees. There really is nothing more damaging to employee morale than the feeling that they are being kept out of the loop on important information and decisions. Not only that, the manner in which communication is delivered is crucial: If it feels that all internal communication is a top-down process, with little possibility of feedback upwards, then the individual employee is more likely to feel of little consequence.

Again, a good manager will have an open, transparent method of communicating with their staff. Sometimes, it will be passing on information and decisions from above. However, they will realize that communication works both ways, and it’s never enough to tell someone something: One must also be able to listen, and listen well.

If an employee has an issue they need to raise, of course, they’ll expect their manager to be able to listen to that and either make a decision or act as an intermediary and pass on the issue upwards – and then feed back any response in a timely, consistent manner.

Treating your team as employees, not people

It shouldn’t have to be said, but your employees are first and foremost people, not drones! And believe it or not, but they do have real lives outside the walls of your organization. Getting to know something about who your team is as individuals is a great way to boost employee morale, as it lets them know that they are valued for their own unique qualities.

If you regard your employees as 9-to-5 robots, they’ll start behaving like it. Instead, find out about the things that make them tick: their hobbies, interests, family and so forth. No one would expect you to do copious research on each person, of course, but a little interest will go a long way to motivating your team.

The difference between satisfied and dissatisfied employees in the workplace and their impact on all metrics is startling. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone has the same motivation and desire to succeed as you do. Follow the tips on how to motivate demotivated staff and enable your team to produce truly amazing results!

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