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4 Causes of Employee Demotivation (and HR Solutions to Overcome Them)

Do you work in an office filled with motivational posters? You know, the ones with mountain scenes and phrases like, “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations” and “You never fail until you stop trying.” They are lovely, but often employee demotivation posters seem more appropriate. Something like, “Every dead body on Mount Everest belonged to a highly motivated person,” or “Teamwork: Ensuring that your hard work can be ruined by a coworker’s incompetence.” if you work in an office where you feel demotivated—or you’re the manager (or HR manager) of a team that lacks motivation and enthusiasm, you might wonder where you’ve gone wrong. These are four common causes of employee demotivation, and how you can overcome them.

Low or Unfair Pay You can pay all of your employees above market rate, and you will still demotivate employees if your pay structures aren’t fair. If John and Sally are doing similar jobs, their paychecks must be similar, and you need to be able to clearly articulate why there may be differences in their salaries. It’s okay if Sally makes more money because she has additional experience and higher performance ratings. But, it’s not okay if she makes more money because she’s female and you’re trying to make up for past discrimination.

How HR Can Fix This Employee Demotivation Issue Run a pay audit. Do this regularly. Every time you hire or promote a person internally, take a look at salaries and make sure the amounts look equivalent and fair. Keep an eye on your salary market rates even if you don’t have employee turnover.

Bullies in the Workplace Coming into work is hard enough even when you offer your employees a pleasant environment, but if you have a company or department bully, you may find that they find it difficult to get excited about work at all. This can happen even if the actual work is fulfilling and precisely what they want to do. A bully can exist at any level and antagonize any level. Bosses can be afraid of an intern just as interns can fear their bosses, and bullying knows no gender.

How HR Can Fix This Employee Demotivation Issue Bullying, as long as it’s not directed at an individual based on their protected classification, is legal. But, legal doesn’t make bullying right. You need to create and enforce a zero-tolerance bullying policy. No one should be teasing, harassing, or generally making life miserable for others. HR has to put in a lot of work to pin down bullying and put a stop to it—after all, bullies have been perfecting their craft since elementary school—but it’s absolutely critical if you want to motivate rather than demotivate your employees.

Disorganization When the boss doesn’t know what's happening when, or assigns two people one task and forgets to assign the other task, work becomes stressful and demotivating for employees. If one employee is drowning in work and another spends half the day on YouTube, the second employee may be just a slacker, but the disparity may be a result of disorganization, and workflows that are ineffective.

How HR Can Fix This Employee Demotivation Issue Disorganization is a super complicated issue because it has an infinite number of underlying causes. A scatterbrained manager may need an excellent administrative assistant to keep on track. Or, if workflows back up and result in a disorganized mess between departments, you may have to rework how departments interact with each other. The key to solving disorganization as an employee demotivation issue is spotting disorganization as the problem and working to fix it. Remember to ask the people directly affected by the problem as they may have the best insights into how to fix the problem.

Stringent Work Rules Some organizations, of course, need to have strict rules. If you’re working with dangerous chemicals, for example, every employee needs to follow every protocol with exactness. But, in other situations, the specific expectations and rules aren't necessary. If you dock an exempt employee’s vacation time off when she leaves 30 minutes early on Tuesday, even though she worked 45 hours this week, you demotivate your employee. When you refuse an employee's request to work from home just because you don’t like to have employees work where you can’t see them, you demotivate your employees.

How HR Can Fix This Employee Demotivation Issue Today’s employees want flexibility. They know flexible schedules are available at other companies, so you need to offer them as well if you want to retain your best employees. Look at the effort and thoughtfulness needed to the get the job done, and not so closely at people’s font choices, whether they clock in at 9:00 or 9:08, or whether they listen to podcasts while they work. HR needs to train managers to look for places where they can offer flexibility rather than defaulting to a no. Employees want to like their jobs. You want your employees to like their jobs. When you work towards fulfilling these expectations, you’ll have motivated employees. Fail to do so, and you’ll find that employee demotivation is rampant.

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