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Lead Your Team Leadership

5 Ways You're Demotivating Your Employees

5 Ways You're Demotivating Your Employees
Credit: lassedesignen/Shutterstock

Unless they're vying for the title of "World's Worst Boss," no leader wants to purposely make their staff feel discouraged and unmotivated. But if you've noticed a drop in employee engagement, take a close look at your own words and actions — you might be the reason for it.

"Leaders don't always realize their behavior is demotivating staff members, because they aren't engaged enough with employees to understand which behaviors work and which ones don't," said Vip Sandhir, founder and CEO of employee engagement platform HighGround. "Many leadership teams don't understand the ongoing mood of a company."

If you're not taking the time to check in with your group, you may be inadvertently demotivating your employees. Here are a few key behaviors and tactics to avoid as a leader.

Do you allow certain employees (or yourself) privileges like flexible schedules, remote work options or access to company resources but withhold them from others? Do you chastise your staff for coming in late when you left early the day before? You may try to justify it by telling yourself that you or the "favored" employees work harder to earn those perks, but it's unfair to set standards that you don't follow yourself.

"If you're asking the team to work hard but you're the first one to leave the office, then the team is going to look at you and wonder why you're not setting the example," said Josiah Humphrey, co-founder and co-CEO of app development company Appster.

To avoid these demotivating double standards, make sure you're applying benefits and rewards fairly across the board. For example, Ashley Morris, CEO of Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, said his role as a father is one of his top priorities. Because he takes time off to be with his children, he allows his staff members to plan their schedules around their families, as long as the work gets done and company expectations are met.

"If this kind of flexibility applies to one member of the team, it must apply to all," Morris said. "This creates a culture of support and understanding, and policies like these tend to help in retaining talent and creating an environment that fosters quality work."

As a leader, your job is to make sure your team is doing its part to push the business forward. Meeting the bottom line is very important, but focusing too heavily on strategic goals and being "all business" could make your employees lose sight of the camaraderie and culture that are supposed to motivate them.

"Of course it's important to conduct good business and create a high-quality product, but it all starts with the 'why,'" said Amit Kleinberger, CEO of Menchie's Frozen Yogurt and MidiCi, The Neapolitan Pizza Company. "A strong business starts by cultivating a winning culture and a strong team. Values and culture are ingrained, and the decisions we make are based first on people and on building a good community, then on business. It's a mistake for businesses to focus solely on commerce."

One of the most common pieces of leadership advice is to stop micromanaging, and yet many leaders still struggle with letting go of the reins. You may not even realize your employees see your behavior as controlling because you believe you're just guiding and helping them do their jobs. Your intentions may be good in theory, but in practice, you could be pushing staff members away.

"Aside from reducing productivity, micromanagement can also be detrimental to employee motivation and can cause talented employees to want to go elsewhere," said Vic Mahadevan, CEO of restaurant loyalty and insights platform Punchh. "To micromanage someone implies a lack of trust. In an environment of trust, employees have the freedom to explore, innovate and create, and yes, occasionally make mistakes. Mistakes, however, should be viewed as learning opportunities where new discoveries are made and great lessons [are] learned."

Leadership decisions often need to be made quickly and effectively, especially when someone higher up the ladder gives the directive. But if you initiate something that affects your team members, without asking for their thoughts, they probably won't be too happy about it.

"If people are in an environment where they feel they have a voice and can contribute to decisions, they feel more invested," Humphrey said. "If people [don't feel like they're being] heard, they won't have as much buy-in because you didn't get their opinion on the process change before you rolled it out."

Even if your employees can't have direct input in the decision, the least you can do is keep them in the loop about what's happening. Joe Schumacher, CEO of Goddard Systems Inc., advised transparency above all else when it comes to your team communications.

"Staying tight-lipped about your organization's strategic goals, decisions, progress and setbacks is a huge mistake," Schumacher said. "Open communication helps cultivate transparency so that employees have a clear understanding of where the organization is headed, why it's headed there and how they can help. Keeping employees informed is an excellent way to increase their engagement and productivity while providing them with a sense of validation."

Your employees want to know where they stand with you. A recent survey by The Office Club found that a supervisor's acknowledgment of progress is the No. 1 factor (29 percent) that motivates workers, so it's important to prioritize regular check-ins and meetings with your staff for this purpose. If you're managing a large team, it can be difficult to provide individual feedback all the time, but when you don't, employees may get the sense that their accomplishments are going unnoticed.

"[Some companies] rely too heavily upon the annual performance review as the driver for giving feedback and developing talent," Sandhir told Business News Daily. "Many employees walk into the annual performance review with a mind-set of confrontation based on arbitrary ratings and infrequent feedback. Leaders can drive greater engagement and productivity by focusing on improving the quality and frequency of coaching conversations."

Sandhir also noted that encouraging a culture of feedback — not just from you, but from peers, other executives and cross-department co-workers — can help employees get the recognition they need even when you're not available. 

"Businesses need to facilitate a way for employees to recognize their team members for a job well done," Sandhir said. "By allowing peer-to-peer, top-down and bottom-up recognition, all team members will know when their colleagues are grateful for them and how their achievements align to the values of the organization."

Nicole Fallon Taylor
Nicole Fallon Taylor

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.