3 ways to destroy employees’ motivation—and how to stop

Do you fail to publish results from employee surveys? Or sweep negative feedback under the rug? If you do, your employees probably aren’t giving you their best.


Employers always look for ways to boost employee engagement and get the best out of their people.

But even so, many inadvertently cause workers to disengage. Are you guilty of any of these common motivation killers?

1. Pretending to listen

I’ve never met an employee who said, “I really love taking employee surveys,” or “My employer has a great employee survey process!” Yet people say they want to be heard. In theory, surveys should facilitate that.

What’s wrong?

Most employers don’t realize that when they ask for feedback, they’re starting a conversation. Like in any conversation, the employer should listen and engage in an information exchange. Instead of making employee feedback a springboard for dialogue, employers publish the findings in a report months later, or never speak of them.

When people invest time and effort in offering feedback and don’t hear back for months (if ever), they believe no one is listening. It’s disheartening to feel like no one hears you—especially after someone asked you to speak up.

What to do instead: If you want to motivate your employees, shrink the length of time between requesting feedback and doing something with it. Report your findings promptly, and let people know what actions you’ll take based on the results.

2. Hiding from the truth

Another reason employers fail with employee feedback is they can’t handle anything negative.

When employees offer constructive feedback, or surveys reveal problems in the organization, employers tend to sweep that information under the rug. This shows they’re not listening, and are ignoring employees’ concerns and problems.

What to do instead: If you went to the doctor for a check-up and found out you had cancer, you wouldn’t sit on the test results for months or pretend you never saw them. You also wouldn’t pat yourself on the back if your doctor discovered your heart was healthy. You’d focus on the cancer, and treat it right away.

Employers need to stop being scared of their data. When they receive negative feedback and constructive criticism, they should immediately examine what’s wrong and work to make it right.

3. Operating in secret

For years it’s been standard for employers to keep salaries, sales numbers and other key statistics secret. Only board members, senior leaders and anyone government regulators required them to inform knew the information.

The problem with this is secrets erode trust-the foundation of great teams. When employees don’t think their employer trusts them, or if employees don’t trust their employers, they’re less engaged and motivated to do their best.

What to do instead: Recognize that transparency builds trust, trust supports teams and great teams-not individuals-build successful organizations. Make transparency your default.

Many new organizations do this. For example, Buffer publishes employees’ salaries (including the CEO), and includes details about its pay structure and the rationale behind it. Buffer is also open about its revenue, paying customers and other metrics.

When employees aren’t engaged at work, they don’t give employers their best. If you want their best, make sure you’re not inadvertently killing their motivation to give it to you.

Being an organization that kills employees’ motivation isn’t good for your brand, either. It can make it harder for you to attract and retain great people. That may not have been a major concern with the economic downturn and slow recovery, but the jobs market is heating up again, and with it competition for the best, most motivated employees.

Chris Ostoich is founder and CMO at BlackbookHR, a software company on a mission to create more engaged and connected workplaces and communities. A version of this article originally appeared on TLNT.com.

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