How to Overcome Employees’ Demotivation

January 13, 2024
3 mins read

By Francis Wade

Friday, July 12, 2013.

Congratulations! You are a high-performing employee and you have just been promoted to the rank of supervisor for the first time.

You feel proud of your accomplishment, but as the warm glow fades, you should understand: you are about to join the corporate demotivators.

Call me a pessimist, but the data cited in Why Workers Won’t Work: The Case Study of Jamaica, by Kenneth Carter, is clear. As you become a manager, you are about to be swept into the supervisory ranks who have forgotten what workers really want.

Of course, you think you know exactly what they want — more money. But maybe you are a little more astute and have already determined the truth about material motivation. Simply doubling every worker’s pay might create a lot of excitement, but it would have almost no effect on productivity. If it did, there would be a remarkable spike in productivity in January, right after bonuses are received. There isn’t.

According to Carter’s study, you should pay attention to a few different factors that are more important than just money — respect, appreciation, recognition, and involvement. Not surprisingly, according to the research, these are the same values that you likely say would motivate you.

However, a funny thing happens when you, the newly minted Jamaican manager, join the ranks of supervisor: ‘Yuh faget whey yuh come fram’.

You develop a peculiar case of amnesia and learn to start treating your former colleagues as if they are different. No longer do they need the respect, appreciation, recognition and involvement that you see as important. Somehow, in your mind, they turn into money-grubbers who only want one thing.

It’s safe to assume that these forces are inescapable and strong. They press on you from all directions as you enter a 360-degree pressure-cooker that results in 74 per cent of our workers being demotivated. You may fight them at first, but the cultural expectation is that once you join the ranking class of managers, you will begin to see workers differently. Your superiors expect it, and so do your former colleagues.

However, you can use the remarkable tool of self-knowledge to stop the slide into a numbing sameness. Accept that these forces are real, and maybe you’ll be able to find yourself not giving in to them.

Here are some specific pitfalls and their respective solutions.

1. Under-acknowledging and over-criticising

Honest appreciation is too often saved for departures and emergencies. Faced with a last-minute opportunity, we finally tell the world how much a co-worker means to us at a funeral, or on a death-bed. However, last minute acknowledgement does little to balance the day-to-day criticisms that remain so frequent, blunt and harsh. If you are a manager, assume that you are no different than the average tight-lipped task-master.

Instead, solve the problem by practising giving kudos and ‘big-ups’ until you start to feel uncomfortable. Then, you may gradually stop being one of the mediocre managers who starve employees of acknowledgement for fear that ‘it will go to their heads.’ Only your knowledge of yourself can tell you when this discomfort kicks in, and that you are on the right track.

2. Under-noticing

Motivation and inspiration are fragile creatures, and most workplaces don’t have cultures in which these critical values are protected. As a manager, you probably won’t receive the training you need to notice when someone’s attitude, countenance and performance dips.

Yet when that happens, it is just the moment to intervene. We won’t tell you exactly how they feel – Jamaicans aren’t wired that way. You’ll have to develop your own ability to notice emotional shifts in others, using knowledge of your own inner emotions as a guide, plus your powers of observation.

Develop your reliance on these emotions, as they are important sources of data.

3. Underestimating

It’s easy to leave employees in their comfort zone and never press them for increased productivity. Note, however, this isn’t the same as vague requests for more, nor does it involve impossible deadlines.

Instead, it’s about knowing employees’ capabilities and working with them to consciously upgrade their skills.

The exceptional employee will ask for such opportunities, but the average worker will wait to see what you, supervisor asks them for.

The solution is to keep asking for growth, and couple this request with a deep understanding of the employee’s skills and capabilities. As their coach, you can always ask for higher performance.

To develop the confidence to do so, a good idea is to push yourself to high performance as a manager, by understanding, and expanding, your own skills.

The forces that push young supervisors into these three mistakes are strong, but as a new supervisors you can develop the extraordinary self-knowledge needed to overcome them.

Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting and author of “Bill’s Im-Perfect Time-Management Adventure”. He can be reached at

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