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How to Demotivate Your Best Employee

Employee motivation remains one of the hottest topics in organizations. That’s because so many workers are demotivated. This has managers worried. They don’t know how to deal with the problem. More importantly, they don’t know what caused it. Until they do, they will be unable to solve it.


Herzberg’s factors

About sixty years ago, Frederick Herzberg did a study which became the benchmark for all other studies on employee motivation. He identified two categories of managerial behaviours that had a direct impact on job satisfaction – the key to motivation.

Before we talk about demotivation, we need to have a clear understanding of what these categories are and what they mean.

Herzberg referred to them as hygiene and non-hygiene. To put it simply, hygiene factors were things that people expected to get in their jobs: fair pay for their work; a good relationship with their supervisor; fair company policies; safe working conditions; good relationships with their co-workers; and job security.

Non-hygiene factors were those things that actually gave people job satisfaction: opportunities for promotion and personal growth; achievement and recognition for it; and additional responsibility.

Now there’s a critical part of this that you must understand. Job satisfaction, or motivation if you prefer to think of it like that, is not the opposite of demotivation. Rather, the opposite is none.

That is, having no motivation is not the same as being demotivated.

Think of a lift. When you’re on the ground floor, you have no motivation. When you go up, you’re motivated. When you go below ground into the basement, then your demotivated.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since the 1950s and ‘60s. Hardly anyone has the kind of job security now that was common then. Even being a dictator doesn’t guarantee you that luxury. Nevertheless, these factors still hold up for the most part.

Let’s think about them for a few moments.


Hygiene and non-hygiene factors today

Why do you suppose that non-hygiene factors motivate people? It’s because all of those things make them feel good about themselves. They are rewards for their hard work.

Conversely, why do you suppose the hygienic factors don’t motivate? It’s because employees believe that they deserve them. Don’t you?

Don’t you believe that you’re entitled to good relationships with your colleagues and your boss? Don’t you believe that you deserved that big bonus that you got? And what happens when you don’t get a bonus? Immediately there’s a little voice in your head that says, “So you don’t think I’m worth it?” And then you have doubts about yourself and your boss and the organization, and the seeds of demotivation are sown.

Your employees think and feel exactly the same way.

So as long as people get what they expect – the hygiene factors - then things will go tickety-boom as they did yesterday, and the day before that, and they day or week before that. Make sure that people get them, and they’ll carry on as before. But those things will have no impact on their motivation unless you mess with them.

And that’s the problem. Managers try to use things which are known not to motivate as motivators, while ignoring the things that are known to make people want to do more. It sounds crazy because it is; and yet this happens time and time again.

Why do they do that? Because it’s easier. It’s easier to mess with someone’s pay and benefits, for example, than it is to recognize their achievements or give a promotion.


How to demotivate your best employee

Now that you understand the background, we can look in a little more depth at how you can demotivate your best employee.

You see, your best employee is the best for a reason. He or she has a lot of competence and self-confidence, and does whatever it takes to produce work of the highest standard. These people are often their own worst critic, which means that they don’t need your help.

They will do almost anything for you; but they, too, have limits.

When it comes right down to it, you demotivate them when you make them feel that they are no longer of value to the organization; that nothing they do matters.


What would that look like?

It could be that you decide that you don’t have time to “make nice”; that you’re too busy to be friendly.

Maybe you have the attitude that in order to be fair you have to apply the company policies uniformly, no matter what the circumstances.

Now it’s important that people follow the rules, if those rules are sensible to begin with, and that some people aren’t allowed to flaunt them while others have their feet held to the fire. On the other hand, you need to use some common sense.

It’s not rocket science, for example, to recognize that the person who works on a computer all day is a prime candidate for working from home, while someone else who repairs your building can’t. Yet there are managers who are sure that if they let one person work from home, then they’ll have to comply with the requests of everyone else in the company who want to do the same thing.


Demotivation – the process

Demotivation doesn’t happen overnight. The most motivated will stay with you if they like what they’re doing. They’ll put your behaviours down to a few bad days. However, when a pattern becomes clear, and they get it that things will not improve, then they will be out the door as fast as they can go.

A perfect example of this is found among our nation’s teachers. They teach because they love it and care for their students. They spend their own money on their classrooms and other materials. They never expect to get rich by teaching.

But there’s an acute shortage of teachers in the UK. Why? Because they’ve been leaving the profession in droves.

At first they try harder. They tell themselves that they knew it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake when they signed up to do it. They curb their sleep and their social lives. They take work home with them. They work on weekends and during school breaks. But no matter what they do, many find that they can’t keep up the pace indefinitely. And just like the demotivated employees in your organization, they eventually reach a point where they can’t take any longer.

They stop trying.

They’ll do what’s required. No more.

When this happens in your organization, then you’ll have only yourself to blame.


Average employees

What about your average employees? How do you demotivate them?

In exactly the same way. The difference is that the path is shorter. Your best employee will try harder to make a difference before giving up. Your average employee will be far less tolerant.

Those who end up doing the minimum may sink into despair and hopelessness. You don’t want to be responsible for this. The consequences can be dire.


Turning things around

How can you turn things around? It’s not by messing with the hygienic factors mentioned earlier. Remember those things are givens. People expect to get them. Make sure that they do.

If you want to motivate your employees, then figure out how to do the hard things. Take the time. Be creative. Get advice if you need it; but come up with a multitude of ways for your people to have opportunities for promotion and personal growth; achievement and recognition for it; and added responsibility.

Handle this correctly, and not only will you witness greater motivation, but the morale will soar, perhaps for the first time.


If you would like to talk more about Motivation, Demotivation, Productivity and Employee Engagement, contact us here.

For more information please send a message via the Contact Us Page. Or you can register for an upcoming webinar.

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