10 Ways to Motivate Disengaged Employees

10 Ways to Motivate Disengaged Employees

The dictionary describes motivation as “the act or an instance of motivating, or providing with a reason to act in a certain way…” and this definition is the perfect way of describing just what it is that differentiates great team leaders and managers from mediocre ones.

To effectively lead a department and get the best out of the people working for you, being able to motivate them is key.

Because let’s face it, we all have those days, or even periods of time, when our productivity slumps and our desire to get things done takes a bit of a nosedive.

bored woman at desk
But as someone working in HR who may be responsible for ensuring the wellbeing and engagement of your employees, how do you handle situations when someone seems to have checked out for the long term? How do you support their manager when it comes to finding ways to get a formerly good member of staff back on track?

As the dictionary says, you need to provide them with a reason to act a certain way.

You need to motivate them to re-engage with their work - otherwise you might be needing to have a very different type of conversation with them.

two women having a serious conversation in an office
But that leads us on to the billion dollar question: how exactly do you, or their manager, create a company culture that motivates employees that seem to have lost their get up and go?

Luckily for you, we have some handy tips to help. Read on!

10 Ways to motivate disengaged employees

These tips should be applicable for the majority of workplaces, and in fact, many of them are just common sense! You may do some of them already, but it’s always worth exploring new ways of motivating employees, especially if you’re struggling with a particular person, or even feel that the overall vibe within the company or in a team is one of a distinct lack of motivation.

woman gazing out of office window
So here in no particular order we present 10 ways to motivate disengaged employees:

Tip #1: Create a culture of transparency

If your processes are not particularly clear and your employees are confused and don’t really know what they’re working towards, it stands to reason that they won’t be motivated.

This means that managers need to share the bigger picture with their team - if people can’t see the purpose of what they’re doing, where’s the motivational factor in that? Let employees know what the knock-on effects of their efforts are - how they impact clients or customers, and the business as a whole.

sign saying 'your ideas matter'
Transparency also creates trust and when your people trust their coworkers and managers they will be more motivated to work towards the common goal, be it a project, a deadline or a target.

Tip #2: Set achievable (and measurable) goals

Demotivation can really kick in when a particular project feels never ending. And it’s not just projects that can drag on, it can also feel like you’re on a hamster wheel if you’re doing the same thing day in and day out.

Of course, it would be unrealistic to suggest that managers abandon boring projects halfway through or change the type of work someone is doing just to ensure they’re motivated. After all, there are plenty of jobs which can be pretty similar every day - for example, customer service or data entry.

person typing into a spreadsheet on a laptop
The way around this is to break projects down into smaller chunks and create goals or targets for jobs that involve repetition. That way there is something to work towards which is more motivational than slogging away with no end in sight.

Tip #3: Recognize and reward achievements

Following on from the tip above, make sure that when goals are met, or even exceeded, that the employee(s) responsible are recognized for it. After all, no one likes smashing a target, turning something in way before a deadline, or doing a great job only to be virtually ignored. Not only that but chances are they’re not going to put in as much effort next time...

Employee recognition plays a huge part in whether or not a person is highly engaged at work and it can have a huge effect on your company’s retention rates.

coffee cup and note saying 'thanks'
And the good news is that recognition doesn’t just have to take the form of an annual bonus. In fact it shouldn’t just take the form of an annual bonus!

For while not many of us would turn money down, there are also smaller, more personal ways of showing appreciation for a job well done: a gift card, a half day off, coffees for all the team, lunch on the company, a heartfelt mention at the monthly meeting, or the first round of drinks at Friday night happy hour.

Tip #4: Try not to micromanage

Nobody likes being micromanaged. It’s just a fact of life! And while there are many employees who respond well to, and prefer to be given clear direction, if a manager is getting involved in every tiny thing they do it’s not only annoying, it’s demoralizing and screams “you don’t trust me to do my job!”

a manager pointing to an employee's screen
As mentioned earlier, trust is a motivator and by loosening the grip on employees and allowing them to manage their own schedules (to a certain extent and if appropriate) or to make their own decisions, you should see an increase in efficiency, productivity and, yes, motivation.

Give employees the deadline or target and let them decide for themselves how they handle the workload. This is particularly apt now that many businesses are operating remotely or with a hybrid model (part work from home, part work from the office) as it enables employees to work at a time that suits them best and aligns with their motivational peaks.

Tip #5: Encourage a healthy mindset

No one is performing at their optimum when they’re tired, hungry, or dehydrated. Help banish sluggishness and disengagement by making sure your company culture places an emphasis on health and wellbeing.

smiling woman in a bright office
Encourage people to take regular breaks or conduct walking meetings. Sitting at a desk all day long isn’t healthy and it isn’t motivational. Movement is good and will allow people to recharge and refresh their brains and bodies.

Make sure people are taking their lunch breaks, and consider providing healthy snacks and drinks that will be on hand anytime anyone needs to grab something to refuel or rehydrate. If you really want to go the extra mile, offer a subsidized gym membership or even arrange yoga or Pilates classes in the office for after hours, if you have the space and enough willing participants.

Tip #6: Make sure your policies benefit your people

Offering a generous vacation allowance, maternity and paternity leaves and sick days will not only attract new talent to your company when you’re advertising vacancies, but they will help retain the staff you do have - and it stands to reason that employees who feel that they are supported and valued by their employer will be more motivated to work harder.

smiling man sitting at desk
In addition, having health and wellness policies and offering support to your employees to ensure they don’t suffer from burnout, as well as benefits such as duvet days will help to ensure that your people are less likely to need time off.

Tip #7: Build a positive environment

No one likes being around someone who is angry and negative for the majority of the time and managers who rule through fear (whether intentionally or not) are not going to get the best results from their people.

Positivity is catching so make sure your workplace is somewhere that doesn’t feed into negativity - which can also spread like wildfire. Of course, this is easier said than done, and we wouldn’t be human if we spent all day with a perma-grin plastered on our face.

pink neon sign saying 'good vibes only'
But bringing more positive vibes into your HR Department - and encouraging managers to do the same - will trickle down to the rest of your employees. To do this, try to ensure the words you use are upbeat and motivational and your body language is positive.

Lead from the top: if you come across as motivated - via your language and posture - it will create a domino effect that will inform the way your people think and work too.

Tip #8: Promote the concept of teamwork

As they say, teamwork is the dreamwork. It’s cheesy but true. And it has a big role to play in helping employees feel more motivated. After all, when motivation starts to slide south, it can be a buoying feeling knowing that you’re part of a team that wants to succeed.

Scrabble letters spelling 'teamwork'
It’s a natural reaction not to want to let the team down and in fact, research has shown that employee happiness is more in alignment with how well they get on with their coworkers, as opposed to their managers.

To ensure that you have an environment that allows collaborative teamwork to flourish, take a look at the way your departments are run. Are people given the opportunity to work with one another? Do the tools, software and systems you use allow for great communication and collaboration? Is your office layout conducive to working as a team? Are team meetings held on a regular basis?

Tip #9: Let loose and have some fun

Granted, one person’s idea of fun may not be the same as the next guy’s but creating a more relaxed atmosphere at work can work wonders if you sense that you have a lot of disengaged and unmotivated people on your hands.

four colleagues smiling and joking
There are things you can do inside and outside of the workplace to help add a sense of lightheartedness to the proceedings. Yes, we know it’s still a place of work and technically not somewhere we go to have a whale of a time (unless we’re really lucky and working our dream job!) but adding little fun elements such as gamifying goals and targets can really boost motivation and a feeling of togetherness.

Outside of work, a day or afternoon out of the office doing a fun activity, team lunches, volunteering at a community project, or just happy hour drinks at the local pub can all help people feel less like a number and more like an engaged member of a team. Just make sure these sorts of events are regular, or semi-regular, and not just a once in a blue moon scenario which will have little to no effect.

Tip #10: Think about your physical environment

Take a look at your office: is it an environment that encourages motivation - or kills it? What colors are the walls? Is seating comfortable? Is there a lounge area for chilling out at lunch or holding informal meetings? Is the kitchen area pleasant, clean and convenient? Is there greenery and plantlife?

sign on desk saying 'have a good day'
All of these things are pretty easily achievable and will go a long way towards creating an environment that is more inspiring to work in and make turning up to the office to log on every morning less of a chore for those that see it that way.

10 Ways to motivate disengaged employees: conclusion

While the onus to creating a more motivational workplace does fall on Human Resources and management, it should be noted that anyone within your business can be motivating, positive and inclusive. There’s absolutely no reason why the most junior member on the team can’t express their admiration for a job well done!

By leading the way, and creating a more motivational culture, even your disengaged people will gradually start to become part of the solution, and not part of the problem by feeding off the constructive, affirmative and motivational atmosphere in your workplace.

Eve Jones
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Sydney, Australia