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How to handle an unmotivated employee

9th Aug 2017
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We all know that happy employees are engaged employees whereas those who are unmotivated don’t enjoy coming to work at all. They may start taking unnecessary sick days or they will remove themselves from the situation entirely by getting a new job elsewhere. Given that it can cost thousands to recruit and train new staff, keeping employees motivated and engaged makes solid business sense. What should you do when faced with an unmotivated employee?

Being unmotivated has a direct impact on performance

If people are not motivated to do their job, generally they will underperform. Other employees may feel that they must work harder to compensate for unfinished tasks which can easily create resentment among team members, bringing down the morale of the whole team.

Low motivation levels are often accompanied by low productivity. This can create a bit of a catch-22 situation where poor motivation leads to poor performance, and the resulting lack of success leads to even poorer motivation, and so it goes on.

Look out for the signs

As an HR professional, part of your job is getting people through tough times. If you are not approached or asked for help you will need to be able to spot the signs of an unmotivated employee. Whether changes take place over time or are sudden, here are some characteristics of unmotivated employees to look out for:

  • Lack of energy
  • Poor attention to detail
  • Shying away from challenges
  • Poor performance

The sooner this negative mindset is turned around, the sooner you can stem any potential negative effect the individual's performance will have on the rest of their team and on the organisation as a whole.

How can HR help?

Once the problem is identified you must analyse the situation using whatever information is available and answer the following questions:

  • Is the employee aware of the impact of their actions?
  • Does the employee know his or her performance is not what it should be?
  • Are expectations placed on them clear?

Talk it through

The most critical step in successfully managing unmotivated employees is talking with the employee in question. For this to be effective, you need to strike a balance where you are able to address all concerns without compromising the relationship.

You need to identify triggers that can make the employee feel unmotivated and disconnected from work. Both parties then need to agree on a solution and outline the steps required to achieve changes.

Take action to engage employees

If any slight setback at work can trigger a downward spiral of negativity for your employee, you could “put a process in place to deal with any failure where your employees are encouraged to stop and reflect on what has happened. Ask them to think about what they could do differently next time, and encourage them to look ahead and focus on the next challenge” advises Guv Jassal of Washington Frank International.

If the employee would benefit from some positive reinforcement, Guv suggests focussing on setting clear daily goals with the employee and encouraging them to keep a record of their success.

Some small actions that could have a big impact on motivation and morale include sharing an inspirational quote every day, inviting managers to give their teams little pep talks at the start of the week or even allowing quiet music to be played in the background while they work.

Despite an HR manager’s best efforts, some particularly difficult employees may be unwilling or unable to change their attitudes. In extreme cases, formal discipline and even termination may be necessary.

Prevention is better than cure

You can only coach and guide employees to motivate themselves. It is down to the individual to manage their own mindset at work but there are things you can do to help the situation.

Knowing what motivates your team is the key. You could gather feedback in the form of a quick catch up at the start of the day, during team meetings or even through workplace surveys. These are all great ways to get insights into what is working and what needs investigating further.

The HR department needs to play an integral role in laying the foundation to build a happy, motivated and engaged workforce. The most powerful change you can make lies within the culture. The right culture will make people want to come to work each day motivated and ready to work. This will boost productivity and ultimately boost the bottom line.

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