7 Things You Don't Realize You're Doing That Demotivate Your Team

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you're making any of these seven unconscious moves, you could be disappointing your employees and inspiring them to look for another job.

1. You don't give them enough face time.

"A lack of real-time, face-to-face communication among teams and with managers can leave employees feeling less connected," says Dan Schoenbaum, CEO of Redbooth, an online collaboration platform.

In today's mobile workplace, managers must make sure all employees — especially those who work remotely — are engaged. Employees should have frequent feedback and be made to feel as if their opinions are valued and struggles respected.

When managers don't have regular conversations with employees, it can slow down projects and affect morale, says Adam Ochstein, founder and chief executive of StratEx, a Chicago human resources and software firm.

"If a manager reviews a completed assignment and either marks it entirely in red with errors or decides to take it in a completely new direction, morale can take a steep dive," he says.

When an employee misses a goal, some managers address that the target was missed and reset the deadline. Unfortunately, many fail to ask what the problem or hold-up really was.

"Managers have to ask why. It's the follow-up that helps dig up bigger issues," Ochstein says.

2. You haven't given them clearly defined roles.

"As a manager, I believe it's important to build a collaborative atmosphere where individual team members feel comfortable contributing insight and picking up slack," Schoenbaum says. "However, not clearly defining team members' individual roles and responsibilities can leave them feeling directionless and demotivated."

While managers may want to be known as the "laid-back, democratic boss," if tasks and goals are not in place, projects can flounder and ultimately fail, he cautions.

"Building a roadmap for organizing teamwork is essential, and that roadmap must include who is responsible for each checkpoint along the way," he says.

Of course, clearly defining roles is one thing, but micromanaging is another, Schoenbaum stresses. Leaders need to strike that balance for employees to feel like they have both direction and freedom.

3. You don't really understand teamwork.

"I've had the occasion to work with leaders who talk a good show but unfortunately don't follow through in how they behave," says Morag Barrett, founder of SkyeTeam, an international leadership development company and author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships. "There are Leaders who champion a company's move to 'teamwork and collaboration,' but they continue to work in an individual manner and not involve others."

Managers who bark orders rather than working with their team to accomplish common goals may think they are being decisive and helping move the team to action, but they're simply earning a reputation as a dictator.

"If all your team hears are orders barked at them, you may experience a less proactive team and a more reactive approach where 'Wait until we are told' becomes the norm," Barrett cautions. "At the other end of the scale, if you do nothing but ask your team what should be done, you run the risk of being misperceived as not knowing what your are doing. You team may suffer as they feel they are having to do your job and make your decisions for you."

4. You play favorites.

All organizations need to nurture top talent, but creating an "elite" group of people who are given special development opportunities or the best projects can often backfire. When talented individuals who form the backbone of the organization see themselves as having no future, they're going to look elsewhere, says Jo Clarkson, U.K. operations director for The Alternative Board.

"Managing special programs fairly — perhaps by ensuring selection is objective and open to all — is a key element in minimizing any negative impact," Clarkson says.

Playing favorites can be a simple as a manager taking one team out to lunch to celebrate some achievement, but not giving other teams the same treatment when they achieve something similar.

Also, never be tempted to pay new employees more to attract them than you're paying existing staff already doing the job.

"If you're paying less than the market rate, get everyone up to it — even if it means they need to work a bit harder," Clarkson says.

5. You don't understand what really motivates your team.

"You blame your employees without taking a look in the mirror. You fool yourself into thinking that your employee's lack of motivation is due to anything other than your inability to remove hassles from their work or connect their work with their own internal motivators. It's not their problem — it's your challenge as a leader," says Phillip Wilson, president of the Labor Relations Institute.

Don't ever think "perks" such as massages or pizza parties will motivate. While these are nice, they don't really get at the "big three" motivators: having needs met, hassles removed and progress made, he says.

"If you want to start showing appreciation — and you should — thank people personally and regularly. Be specific."

A big mistake managers often make is thinking they have to do something to motivate employees. It causes them to press, and often "over-manage" a situation.

"That's just not the way it works," Wilson says. "People are motivated for their own reasons. The manager's job is to create an environment where this internal motivation can express itself naturally." 

6. You don't give them enough autonomy, which shows you don't trust them.

Employees want to grow professionally, and one part of that is being able to make decisions on their own, Ochstein says.

"Managers need to give employees the opportunity to do this by encouraging the concept of asking for forgiveness rather than permission … and holding true to it. Managers can't say it and then scold them for not asking beforehand." 

An employee who doesn't trust the organization or management will not be as invested in the organization compared with those who do. 

"Whether it's trust in the organization, manager or team, without it there's a lack of dedication and productivity," Ochstein cautions.

7. You fail to sufficiently praise or recognize.

It's easy for managers to become so focused on the end goal that they forget to celebrate accomplishments, says Todd Berger, president and chief executive of Redwood Logistics, a transportation and logistics firm in Chicago.

"Managers are often striving to produce results while helping their staff grow into successful professionals, which means positive reinforcement and praise can sometimes take a back seat," Berger says. "But praise is essential. Remember to reward staff on the spot, and in front of peers. It's that type of positive feedback that re-energizes and re-motivates employees."

Failing to recognize an employee is "by far the fastest way" to demotivate them, Ochstein cautions.

"Whether it's during a one-on-one meeting, done publicly in a companywide meeting or just passing by their desks, managers have to recognize work when it deserves to be recognized. They need to tell their employees they appreciate their hard work, and that it doesn't go unnoticed."

— Written by Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet

Follow Kathryn on Twitter @KathrynTuggle

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