If you are a manager, or someone who has to get things done through and with others – the motivation of the people you work with probably matters to you. I work with managers every week, in seminars and in coaching relationships, and employee motivation seems to be a source of pain for many of them. They talk about having to work with team members who:

  • Come late / Leave early
  • Do as little as possible
  • Miss deadlines
  • Spend time complaining or gossiping
  • Show a lack of ownership or initiative
  • Show a lack of accountability
  • Spend their time surfing social media

Those types of problems are what I call Type 1 Motivational Challenges: The employee actively demonstrates a lack of motivation

Those Type 1 Challenges are probably only being demonstrated by a small portion of your team, but they may take up a disproportionate amount of your management time. They may very well be a living example of the 80 / 20 rule in action.

But according to the research, there’s a whole other group of employees who probably aren’t fully motivated and committed, who may be operating beneath the surface of your managerial radar. I’m going to call those Type 2 Motivational Challenges: The employee isn’t fully motivated and therefore not working up to their potential.

Associates with a Type 2 dynamic probably show up on time and go through the motions. They are less obvious than the Type 1 problem child, but they still aren’t completely invested. They don’t demonstrate all the initiative or they won’t accept responsibility for important parts of their jobs. They may wait to be told or do only what they’ve been told to do. They apparently don’t feel ownership for some of the work they do. They aren’t performing up to their potential, and the cause is related to not being completely motivated.

If you are a manager, you may very well have team members reporting to you right now who are experiencing Type 2 Motivational Challenges. According to the latest Gallup Management Journal’s Employee Engagement Index,

  • 51% of employees in the US are not fully engaged (Type 2) and
  • 17% are actively disengaged (Type 1).

There’s a real cost to demotivation, whether it’s Type 1 or 2. And it runs the gamut from the in the moment emotional price that managers have to pay working with a demotivated employee, to the very real bottom line price that organizations pay in operating income, customer loyalty and productivity.

There’s a wealth of information available about the cost our work organizations incur from motivational issues.

  • A study by David MacLeod and Nita Clark found that companies with low motivation and engagement earned 32% less operating income.
  • The Corporate Leadership Council found that companies with more engaged workforces grew profits as much as 3 X times faster and had employees who were 87% less likely to leave.
  • A study by McLean & Company found that disengaged employees cost their employers on average $3,400 for every $10, 000 of annual salary.

Motivation fuels performance. The results your team produces are driven to a large degree, by their commitment and engagement. 

People are pretty complex. There could be many reasons why an individual lacks motivation. But as we step back and increase our view, patterns emerge.

The single most important factor affecting an employee’s motivational climate are the practices and behaviors of the direct manager.

The Gallup organization estimates that 70% of an employee’s motivational climate depends on their direct manager. Again and again, study after study point out the importance of the relationship between the direct manager and employee as being THE key factor driving an employee’s motivational climate.

An individual’s current motivation could be dependent on a number of factors. What’s happening at home, their health, past work experiences with other managers, can all have an impact. If you are working with an associate who seems to lack motivation, it could be a problem that you inherited, or it could be something happening outside of work. But in a lot of cases you, as the manager, can have a profound impact on it.

Let me describe how that might work.

  1. Most managers have good intentions. They want to do the right thing.
  1. Managers do what they do, based on their intentions. They act in ways that they think will help meet those intentions
  1. The team member sees what the manager does. They can’t read their mind and see their intentions. Instead, they see the manager’s behaviors filtered through their own perceptual lenses. And then they climb the ladder of inference and make assumptions about why the manager is doing what they are doing.
  1. The assumptions they make about a manager’s intentions and motives, affect how the team member feels about their job. They affect how they feel about the manager as well. Team members probably go home at night and talk about what the manager did and why he / she did it. We’ve all done that. We sit down with a friend or our significant other and talk about our experience with our manager. “ You won’t believe what Frank did today …” And then I tell you the crazy thing that my manager did to me today and we commiserate and agree that Frank is a big jerk.
  1. The assumptions that we make, and the conclusions that we draw, about our manager’s intentions affect our:
  • Confidence
  • Level of enthusiasm for work in general or for a particular goal
  • Sense of self worth
  • Happiness beyond work. The interactions we have with our boss at work don’t stop resonating just because we’ve left the building. They spill over and affect our sense of well-being and peace of mind in our personal life as well.
  1. Those issues directly affect our overall performance.

So, the way we managers are perceived by our team can have a direct impact on the motivational climate of that team, and ultimately, on how each person in the team performs. That directly affects the bottom line. Business performance, of course, depends on more than just motivation, but don’t sell it short. The Managers Guide To Rewards estimates that up to 30% of business results can be explained by the differences in work climates created by a Manager.

The relationship that you, as a manager, develop with a direct report is really important. It’s the starting point for how the associate perceives their job. If it’s a positive relationship with trust, mutual respect and open communication, then the employee is more likely to perceive your behaviors in a positive light. It will be easier for them to see your positive intentions. That will lead to higher engagement. If it’s negative, if the relationship bank account is overdrawn, then even legitimately well-intentioned behaviors on your part, may be seen negatively by the employee.

The relationship that you develop with each individual employee is not just an incidental part of your job. It’s the springboard for creating a motivational work climate and driving performance. It doesn’t guarantee motivation. But without it, good luck! Make it a priority.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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