uninspired employees

Inspire Uninspired Employees: How to Spark Motivation

Does it sometimes feel like you’re wasting your breath trying to inspire uninspired employees?

Managers make their best attempt at coaching employees to harness their own sense of motivation to achieve their personal and professional goals. But many tactics aimed at motivating employees have one major flaw: they don’t account for the person and the impact emotions, feelings, thoughts, and mindset have on their ability to feel drive.

Employees who don’t personally feel a spark of motivation are more difficult to inspire. Furthermore, lack of motivation impacts employee well-being. If your staff isn’t excited about their work, they feel disengaged and lack enthusiasm. Motivating uninspired employees is so crucial that Great Place to Work includes it as part of its certification program.

So what is motivation?

The Science Behind Motivation

Dopamine plays a major part in the science behind motivation. Neurotransmitters carry chemical messages and dopamine’s chemical signal passes between neurons. What matters is which pathway dopamine takes. The mesolimbic pathway, which comes from the middle of the brain and branches to various places like the cerebral cortex, is the most important reward pathway in the brain. Along that path is the nucleus accumbens.

If more dopamine fills the pathway, it triggers feedback for predicting rewards. Your brain knows something important is about to happen, so dopamine kicks in. Dopamine encourages us to act in an effort to achieve good or avoid bad outcomes. As UConn Researcher John Salamone explains, “Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things.” Low dopamine levels can have an impact employee motivation.

Let’s take a look at a few ways managers can help uninspired employees to develop their intrinsic motivation:

Offer Regular Recognition

A 2015 Gallup survey reports that recognition is essential to employee well-being (and contributes to increased employee engagement). It reminds your staff that you value them and shows people pay attention to their contributions to the company.

Make recognition a regular practice in the workplace. Set time aside at meetings to offer praise for each team’s progress on objectives. Encourage employees to share their accomplishments after they complete tasks associated with their goal. When people announce their goal achievements, peers and managers alike can join in providing congratulations.

Celebrate Little Wins

When successes arise, take time to celebrate them. Whether it’s an influx of hot leads or a newly signed contract, sharing excitement of the win together is a good way to boost employee well-being. Plus, tracking incremental progress provides a boost in dopamine.

The sense of community built from the experience is an integral part of building a positive workplace. For example, the people at Mindvalley (whose company lives by a “Code of Awesomeness“) implemented an “awesome bell” which they ring to celebrate employee achievements. They also review weekly Awesomeness Reports and incorporate the term “awesome” in their entire company culture.

Another great example of celebrating your staff comes from Cask Data. Like Mindvalley, they earned a Great Place to Work certification. Along with free lunches and company Fundays, they hand out spot bonus awards of $1,000 in cash to employees who go above and beyond!

Worldpay adopted an internal social network with social recognition features and customizable incentives, like discounted products and services. “Colleagues have embraced the new technology with ease and are regularly utilizing it to recognize others who are living our values,” said Andy Doyle, Head of HR. “This has been very timely for us to also build our new values into our culture.”

Like Worldpay, you can customize your internal social network to fit your culture, your employees and their unique personalities. For example, start fun hashtags like #awesomealert, create groups for top performers and tie in social rewards, like gift cards or cash bonuses, to your peer-to-peer recognition program.

Community helps maintain the authentic motivation within each employee.

Analyze Your Excuses

Help uninspired employees look at what specifically holds them back from feeling motivated and how they manage their willpower. Initial studies originally considered willpower and self-control to be connected to a limited reserve of mental energy. When people felt drained, they would experience what scientists called “ego depletion.” The concept is that people who are completing a self-control task feel a reduction of self-control and suffer from poor performance on their next task.

However, a July 2016 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science proved that when people start to believe in ego depletion, they can actually lose their willpower. To put it simply, people can in fact maintain a steady level of willpower and remain motivated during work as long as they are in the right mindset.

To maintain motivation and drive, help employees confront the excuses they make for themselves that prevent them from staying productive. Try keeping a daily Excuse Board where they can write down the excuses they tell themselves that prevent them from staying focused on their work.

By writing it out, they can become more aware of the negativity and self-defeating nature of excuse-making. This allows them to shift their mindset to a more positive, productive and motivated one.

 Start Setting “Fears”

Goal-setting is important for employees to manage their personal and professional journey. But what happens when they’re stuck staring at goals and failing to take action? Conduct a seminar on fear-setting. This is a simple tactic for them to turn their vague concerns into specific fears and then to develop action plans. By setting fears, your employees can visualize all the worst case scenarios and see how easy it is to overcome them.

First, have employees write out the main objective they’re stuck on. Then, underneath it, create three columns to list the following: what can specifically go wrong, things to do to minimize the likelihood of those things happening, and actions required to help them get back to where they are currently if those worst cases occur.

If your team is scared to innovate and offer creative solutions, they won’t be able to make positive changes. If they’re stuck in negative self-talk, they’ll feel defeated and unmotivated to better themselves. Help them understand the impact mindset has on their well-being.

Join the discussion – share your ideas on how to best ignite the spark of motivation and inspire uninspired employees!



Jon Harris

Jon Harris is the President at LifeWorks, a company that delivers holistic and comprehensive wellbeing - physical, emotional, financial, professional & mental - through meaningful and purposeful technology and services.

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