Sep 25, 2020 | How to (De)motivate an Employee?

How to Demotivate an Employee?

According to the popular belief, increasing a salary always has positive influence  on productivity. Well-paid employee is a happy employee, isn’t it? Well, raising the salary at a wrong moment the best example of how to demotivate an employee.

Let’s start will two real-world stories. Jim quit from academia some time ago. He then decided to educate himself and requalify from experimental science to data science by taking courses in programming and machine learning online. He found a job in a small startup in IT very soon and indulged in his new industry career.

Many people who come to work in startups, go through this honeymoon phase first: at the job interview, the company owners successfully sell them the vision of improving the world together and working on behalf of society together. So, they come to work excited and work hard to bring this vision to life. However, after a few months, it turns out that the owners are good salesmen but not necessarily the protagonists that they claim to be, and that they are mostly concerned about profits. And then, there comes the mental dip.

Fortunately, in this case, this scenario didn’t happen. When asked about his current state of mind, he grinned and said joyfully, “It’s fantastic! And they really appreciate me there. They even gave me the first raise after a few months!” 

The second story, is the story of Hannah. When asked, “How are you doing at work?”, she snorted and said, “I just quit my job!” She wasn’t especially happy about the fact that her employer didn’t give her the opportunity to use her intellectual potential. The tasks that she was given, weren’t challenging and responsible enough for her. She said, “They also gave me a senior position, and they were paying me way too much given how simple my job was! This felt almost offensive to me.” It was surprising turn of events given that just two years before, she was very enthusiastic about her job. She used to be so deep in love with the company’s vision in the past!

Based on these two stories, one might ask the question: when does a raise increase motivation, and when does it work the other way around? It turns out that in certain circumstances, a reward from the employer can actually spoil the relationship between the employer and employee. Let’s get to the bottom of this phenomenon.

How to demotivate an employee

Phases of a Conflict

In every broken employer-employee relationship, there are a few phases and many foreshadowing events. On the first day, everyone comes to their new job with high hopes and loads of enthusiasm. After all, no one would accept a job from any boss if they were suspecting that it is going to be a disaster… Everything is new and shiny — almost like a honeymoon!

Then, the employee starts learning about the company: all the written and unwritten rules, the procedures, the duties, the hierarchy, the social relations, the opportunities, the dos and don’ts. Subsequently, the employee slowly starts integrating into the company culture. This requires developing an identity within the company. “What is my edge? What do I want to be known for in this company? How do I want to be perceived?” The integration process often goes well. But sometimes, something goes wrong in the process — namely, the employee discovers that they can’t fulfill their ambitions and grow into what they would like to be under the current employer. This feeling often goes along with the feeling of being undervalued and/or not taken seriously enough. And this is when the tension starts. 

So, the employee asks for changing/increasing their scope of responsibilities, for promotion, or for a raise, and immediately encounters the resistance from the employer. It is because the employer has their own vision for the company and doesn’t have any intention to change the company’s structure or culture for the employee for the sake of that person’s satisfaction — but rather, aims to reward the employee for the excelling performance in the current system. Hence, resistance. If the employer doesn’t notice the problem and continues the projects without making some favors to the employee, the only way from this point is down.

What happens then? Well, the motivation in the employee gradually drops towards the point in which the connection between the employer and employee falls off into the “dead zone.” In this situation, every action from the other side is interpreted as a sign of bad intentions, even if the intentions were positive. Since the employee feels frustrated about the fact that the reality much differs from their original expectations towards the job, they are no longer willing to cooperate with the employer. As a result, no typical motivation strategy (such as a business trip or a raise) could encourage the employee to work with a smile on their face. Typically, there is no motivation left at all, and the employee focuses on doing the minimum at work, and actively searching for other options after working hours. At this point in time, a raise might even literally infuriate the employee.

The Dance

The point is: motivation is all about the timing. Jim got a raise at the point when he was so fresh in the company that he didn’t even expect it to happen. Hannah got a raise when she was already so tired of her boss rejecting her ideas that nothing would make her happy at this point. Employers often treat giving a raise as a rescue plan in case the motivation of the employee goes down. But this is not going to work! 

With giving a raise, it’s the same as giving someone flowers: it works best when the person doesn’t expect the gift. Or, when they expect the gift and receive a bouquet that is even more beautiful than anticipated. On the contrary, it works the worst when they anticipated the gift, and got it one day later.

So, how to demotivate an employee? With motivating workers it’s a bit like with dancing. Namely, it is crucial to find the right time points to make little pushes and pulls in order to lead the person in the right direction a way that they don’t even feel like led. Such as a little raise when they least expect it.

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Please cite as: Bielczyk, N. (2020). How to (De)motivate an Employee? Retrieved from https://nataliabielczyk.com/how-to-demotivate-an-employee/

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