4 Reasons Good Employees Become Unmotivated, According to Harvard

Women at Work


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Leah Thomas866

Motivation is a determining factor in the successful completion of workplace projects—according to a recent study, it accounts for 40 percent of group work success! Which is why an obvious problem exists if a manager is not sure how to motivate her employees. Researchers Richard E. Clark and Bror Saxberg believe the motivation problem can be solved by identifying where the lack of motivation stems from. Clark and Saxberg have outlined in Harvard Business Review four different motivation traps and how to deal with each of them. 

Trap 1: Values do not match.

If an employee feels as though she does not care enough about the project or the potential outcome of the assignment, she may not be motivated to complete it. Motivation can be lacking in these scenarios, and it is important to recognize this trap. 

What to do: “Find out what the employee cares about and connect it to the task,” the researchers wrote. “Too often, managers think about what motivates themselves and assume the same is true of their employees.”

A manager must work to show the employee how she can better connect to an assignment and its end goal. Clark and Saxberg outline different types of values to draw out from the employee. Interest value revolves around the intellectual stimulation of a task, in which a manager can point out how the task can be interesting to the specific employee and her career interests. Another value is identity value, which involves showing the employee how the assignment plays into her own role in the company and her own identity within herself, like group work or problem solving. A third value is importance value, which can be used to show the employee how important the assignment and its result will be for the company and its overall mission. The final value is utility value, which involves showing the employee the benefits of completing the task, i.e. cost, achievement, avoiding procrastination, in order to capture her interest. 

Trap 2: Lack of self-efficacy.

If an employee simply does not believe she is able to complete this task in the proper way, she may lack the motivation necessary to even begin. 

What to do: “Build the employee’s sense of confidence and competence,” according to the article.

The researchers outline several ways in which to achieve this shift in motivation. First, an employer can outline the tasks this employee has successfully taken on and completed in the past that are similar to the task at hand. Another approach is to point out the employee’s colleagues who have completed similar assignments and the way in which they approached them. 

It is important to stress to the employee that you believe in her and that you know she is capable of completing the challenge. If possible, break down the assignment into smaller steps, so she can feel accomplished and more motivated by the completion of each smaller assignment. 

Trap 3: Disruptive emotions.

If an employee becomes too overwhelmed by her own emotions (which can include anxiety, anger and more) to complete an assignment, it’s time for the manager to step in and provide assistance. 

What to do: “Begin in a setting where you cannot be overheard. Tell them you want to understand why they are upset and engage in active listening,” they said.

The researchers stress that it is important not to agree or disagree with what the employee is saying. Find out what the employee believes is causing her to be so upset. Make sure you fully understand what she is saying by repeating it back to her and asking if you have the information correct. If not, apologize and ask to hear the reasoning again. By simply being and feeling heard, the employee will feel more motivated and confident in her assignment. 

Trap 4: Attribution errors.

Trap four exists when an employee is having difficulty identifying why she is struggling with a given assignment, or when she believes the struggle is past her own control. 

What to do: “Help the employee think clearly about the cause of their struggles with a task. Attribution errors are often to blame when employees seem to be finding excuses not to carry out a task,” they wrote.

Talk with the employee to help her decipher why she believes she cannot complete or even begin the task. Focus on causes that are within her own control. Help her to see that by simply planning properly or developing a new strategy, she can complete the given assignment. And that you are there to help and support her. 

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