Top Five Employee Motivation Problems

Keeping employees motivated and engaged can help boost morale, reduce turnover and create a more dynamic and profitable operation. While different things motivate different people, there are several demotivating practices that can negatively impact your business. Recognizing and correcting these issues can help improve your organization on numerous fronts.

Poor Leadership Structure

When no one appears to be in charge, or worse, everyone thinks they're in charge, it can be hard to perform at peak levels. A lack of hierarchy or direct reporting structure leads to confusion, resentment and an overall lack of direction. Employees are demotivated because their objectives are unclear, and therefore, difficult to work toward. Here are some issues that contribute to this employee motivation problem:

  • Unclear or nonexistent job descriptions.
  • No clear chain of command.
  • Disorganized directives.
  • Hazy goals and objectives.

The employee motivation problem can be solved by writing detailed job descriptions, creating an internal organizational chart and setting clear organizational goals, both individually and by the department.

Lack of Challenging Work

Employees who are bored are typically unmotivated. They may not take an interest in tasks they consider mundane or may perform poorly at the work they do attempt. Some reasons for this motivational problem include:

  • Inappropriate hires.
  • Not taking advantage of an employee's skill set.
  • Lack of professional development opportunities.
  • Failure to promote from within.

This issue can be addressed on several fronts, including the interviewing stage, when you should strive to ensure the person you hire is a good match for the job. Once someone is in their position, provide proper training and the tools the individual needs to do their job effectively. If they appear to master tasks quickly or don't show an interest, consider cross-training, mentoring, job-shadowing or even a different position that better utilizes their talents.

Workplace Conflict

When employees are at odds with one another, or with management, it's not only demotivating, it's also unproductive and could lead to a toxic work environment. Signs of workplace conflict include:

  • Bickering and open disagreement.
  • Open sabotage of the work product.
  • Gossip and clique formation.
  • Constant complaints to human resources.

Resolve workplace conflict by setting clear directives about the types of behavior that will not be tolerated, and taking action accordingly. Address conflict as it arises and set in place a mediation approach to ensure employees have the ability to work out their differences in a professional setting.

Lack of Confidence in the Company

If employees don't feel the company is "going anywhere," or perceive the business is mismanaged to the point of potential job loss, this feeling of insecurity can manifest as poor motivation. Signs of this lack of confidence may be demonstrated in the following ways:

  • Disinterest in long-term projects. 
  • Unwillingness to cross-train or develop professionally.
  • High turnover as people search for new jobs.
  • Poor quality of the work product.

This issue can be addressed by sharing corporate objectives with staffers. Develop a strategic long-term business plan and solicit employee feedback. Demonstrate how their roles will be augmented with teamwork and growth to get buy-in about the company's future. If gossip develops about closure, mergers or other altering factors, communicate sooner rather than later so staffers feel you are being upfront about the company's future.

No One-on-One Attention

Regardless of the company's size, employees need regular feedback to be motivated to do their jobs properly, and well. Some things that might make a staffer feel left out in the cold include:

  • No regular performance evaluations.
  • Irregular one-on-one management meetings.
  • Lack of personal goal-setting.
  • The absence of regular feedback.

Resolve this potential motivation issue by regularly scheduling brief private appointments with staffers to touch base on both work and professional development issues. Hold regular employee performance reviews, annually or bi-annually, and in these discussions, set specific goals and objectives.

Employee motivation is directly tied to productivity and operational success. If you are concerned about whether your staffers are motivated, invite them to share their feelings on the subject via a focus group, employee committee or survey. You will generate a lot of feedback you can use to your advantage, as well as reassure employees their input is valued.