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Motivating your staff to get their tasks done

Can and can't self-belief, motivation, chalk board

Motivating employees can be one of the hardest tasks a manager faces on a daily basis.

It's crucial for a manager to identify an employee suffering from a lack of motivation as soon as possible, then work out "why" before acting to fix it as otherwise you may apply the wrong strategy and de-motivate them even more. Once you know "why", you can apply a targeted strategy to help re-motivate them.

Employees losing motivation fall into four categories known as motivation traps. Each of the traps have distinct causes and come with specific strategies you can use to help re-motivate them.

1. Values mismatch

If an employee doesn’t value the task you’ve given them, they are unlikely going to be motivated to do it. Invest time into finding out what your employees care about and connecting it to the task. A common mistake made is thinking about what motivates you and assuming it motivates your employees too - often this is not the case.

There are different types of values which you can draw from:

Interest Value: Find a connection between what your employee likes and how it relates to the task.

Identity Value: When giving a task to your employee, highlight how the task relates to an aspect they consider to be an important part of their identity or role. This could be engaging in team work, analytical problem solving or working under-pressure.

Importance Value: How important is the task? Make it known to your employees and/or team that the task is crucial in achieving the team/companies’ mission.

Utility Value: The cost of achieving (or avoiding!) the task vs the bigger picture and value of achieving. Sometimes you need to explain how and why the more undesirable tasks have to be completed in order to see future benefits, achieve goals or the bigger picture and avoid blowbacks.

When an employee doesn’t value the tasks you’ve given them, your best bet is to try and appeal to multiple values that may motivate them into successfully completing the task.

2. Lack of self-belief

This reflects your employees confidence in their capability to apply control over motivation, behaviour, and their social environment. As a manager you should be building your employees’ self-belief, self-confidence and competence otherwise they won’t have the motivation to complete tasks.

Point out times they’ve done it before: Chances are your employee has faced similar challenges before that they have overcome, you just need to remind them. Strengthen their self-belief by progressively giving them more difficult challenges or simplifying a challenging task that they can complete in stages.

Often employees lose motivation because they believe the task requires more time and effort than usual. It’s important to reassure your employees and let them know the importance of the task and that they can succeed. Make sure you offer extra support along the way if needed and lead by example.

Self-belief can work in the opposite way too. Your employees may sometimes feel that they are overqualified for the task you have given them resulting in a loss of motivation to complete the task. These employees can be harder to motivate and they often make more mistakes because they think they know what they are doing. In instances like this, avoid challenging their ability or expertise and instead show them that they have misjudged the requirements of the task and it needs to be approached in a different way.

3. Disruptive emotions

When your employees are overcome with emotions such as anxiety, depression, or anger, they won’t be motivated to carry out a task.

Start by having a private conversation with this employee. Tell them you want to understand why they are feeling the way they are and actively listen to what they say. Try not to agree or disagree but rather act non-judgemental as to why they are feeling the way they do. Briefly summarise back to your employee what they have said to determine (and show them) that you have understood what they've said. If you didn’t understand correctly, ask them to explain it again to you. When your employee feels like they have been listened to, their emotions may soften. If need be, schedule a time the next day to discuss it again with them as it can give your employee time and space to gain control over their emotions.

Something to remember is that anger is something, or someone who, has caused the feeling of being harmed. Suggest your employee reframe their belief about whatever/whoever has caused it and that it wasn’t intentional. Offer your help to the employee as they will often respond positively knowing they have your support.

4. Attribution errors

When your employee can’t identify why something didn’t work, they’ll be unmotivated to do the task again.

Attribution errors often happen when your employees are finding excuses to not complete the task. This can be anything like; calling in sick, pleading overcommitment, trying to give the task to someone else, or claiming they are time poor.

Help your employee identify why the task seems impossible to complete and help them move past the challenge. If it is something out of your employees’ control, which can be blaming other people, or a flaw within themselves, try to suggest causes that are in their control like adopting a new way to complete the task.

With all these tips and steps to identify motivational issues, research shows that managers/employers can do more to help keep your employees motivated. When an employee loses motivation, you need to first identify which motivational issue has emerged so you can follow the steps to help get your employee back on track.


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