How you may be demotivating people

Aug 03, 2020

When people are demotivated they become negative and cynical, and can pollute the attitudes of their co-workers. And if they’re really demotivated, they may quit.

These are difficult times we live in. It’s especially challenging for those trying to run businesses where many – if not all of the employees – are working remotely.

When people don’t see their manager very often, if at all, and the external environment is in turmoil in terms of the economic and political climate, it’s easier than ever to inadvertently demotivate someone who works for you.

Adding to that is the fact that many people are basically insecure and have fragile egos, and you have a high probability of demotivating someone whom you don’t want to demotivate.

You obviously want to avoid doing that. When people are demotivated they become negative and cynical, and can pollute the attitudes of their co-workers. They don’t work as hard or care as much. And if they are really demotivated, they may quit.

Here are some common ways managers of A/E firms demoralize and demotivate their people:

  • Setting up a phone call with a client to attempt to sell them some work without including the person in the firm they first talked to or met with. This happens frequently and it almost always upsets the person who made the introduction and confuses the client.
  • Giving public credit to someone for bringing in a new client or selling a job, but forgetting to mention the person the relationship started with. This is always upsetting, and understandably so – the double-edged sword of giving credit. Anyone left out could easily be demotivated.
  • Giving public praise to someone for doing something that other people whom you aren’t mentioning regularly do. Again, this is the dark side of “providing praise publicly,” something that is almost universally hailed as good management practice.
  • Not including someone in a meeting that they think they should be at. We often see this with clients as they try to determine who should be at their strategic planning meetings. Cutting someone out of the meeting who has always been there or who has a lot to offer demotivates them.
  • Not including someone on an email that they should be included on. In some cases, this is accidental because email “groups” aren’t updated. In other cases, it is deliberate and a real “gut punch” to those omitted.
  • Asking someone for their input and then disregarding it. This happens frequently with mentors and mentees, and it is very demotivational to the mentor. They wonder why they should even bother providing their advice or input.
  • Chewing out someone publicly via email for a mistake they made or something they did wrong. A huge no-no, and generally accepted as bad management practice. Yet some people have short fuses and no filter, and are prone to periodically doing this and demotivating their people.
  • Telling the employees how much in total you gave out in bonuses, but excluding or shorting someone (in their view) on their bonus. It’s good to share your successes and point out your generosity but you’d have to be really naive if you think people don’t do the math of figuring out how many people got something and what their pro-rata share “should” be (in their minds).
  • Ignoring someone completely. Situations like this are where I always say, “HR problems, if ignored long enough, will eventually go away.” What I mean is the people you ignore will eventually quit.
  • Showing blatant favoritism. You can’t play favorites – either for real or perceived. All managers have to be cognizant of how anyone they promote may cause resentment and demotivation in those not being promoted.

I could go on here but am out of time and space!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.