When employee motivation wanes

Katharina Stickling.

How do I remain excited about doing the same activities or facing the same issues day in and day out? How then, do I motivate others? Most of us will have experienced periods of time when we feel stagnant, overwhelmed or we simply struggle to connect with our work, even in roles we enjoy and that challenge us positively. While the negative feeling itself can be fleeting, overcoming the block takes time, effort, and patience.

Nearly six in ten employees are psychologically disengaged from work, according to the State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report by Gallup [1]. This phenomenon widely called ‘quiet quitting’ means the person is physically present, but they don’t quite know what to do or why it matters. Such passive existence is not only costly for the organisation and the global economy, it can have detrimental effects on the mental health of these individuals. 

It is important for leaders to acknowledge that motivation and engagement isn’t linear. Most people will go through varying levels of engagement at different times and it may take many diverse approaches to continuously motivate and engage staff.

A core element of motivation is self-determination. When we can’t see the impact that our individual contribution is making, we feel less motivated. Empirical studies indicate that compared to controlled motivation (activities that we carry out due to external pressures to maintain self-worth and avoid negative consequences) it is autonomous motivation that relates to higher engagement and well-being among employees [2]. Understanding how our work contributes to the larger mission of our organisation as well as our personal goals can help us reenter a more positive state of mind and reconnect with our assignments.

For leaders this means delegating tasks in a way that communicates not just the practical output expected from staff, but also how subsequent outcomes will contribute to the overall goal and how it influences the work of others. For employees it means asking how the task you were asked to execute will impact the bigger picture, and in turn, linking this information to your personal measures of success. 

People of either group can seek to answer the following questions to motivate themselves or others:

  • What problem are we trying to solve by doing these tasks?
  • How big is the problem?
  • How frequently does the problem occur?
  • How am I contributing to the solution?
  • What meaning can we find here?
  • Which tasks, or elements of a task, do I enjoy doing?
  • Is it in line with our organisational values?
  • Is it in line with my personal values?

Finding motivation is about changing your mental framing. So if you wonder how to stay motivated in performing the same tasks over and over – here is a hack: Try to do a small part of the task differently each time. 

[1] Gallup, State of the Global Workplace Report 2023

[2] Slemp, G. R., Kern, M. L., Patrick, K. J., & Ryan, R. M. (2018). Leader autonomy support in the workplace: A meta-analytic review. Motivation and Emotion, 42(5), 706–724. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-018-9698-y

Harrowfield is a strategic learning agency. Working to a specific client brief, we draw on the disciplines of organisational and behavioural psychology – and common sense –  to determine and execute strategic and tactical programmes for personal development and team development. Through behaviour change, ideal business outcomes are achieved. 

Can you see a development opportunity or a behavioural frustration? We help business leaders to bring out the potential that they see in their people by shaping habits of thinking, communication and action in the workplace.  Talk to us today.


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