Stop demotivating your people

Jan 28, 2024

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what you are doing to demotivate people; you just have to stop doing whatever it is now!

I was never a big believer in the idea that you can take someone who is not motivated and turn them into a highly-driven person. I just don’t see it happening. So my strategy has always been to try to find and hire people who are already motivated.

So let’s say you can succeed at that. You are able to find those people who don’t need a whip cracked on them to do their jobs and even more. Great!

But then the next challenge – and believe me, it’s a big one – is how you can keep from turning those people off? How can you avoid demotivating them, so they don’t (to use a current business-speak cliche), “quietly quit” on the job? That’s the $64,000 question.

Here are my thoughts. None of them are profound but I have to keep saying them because these problems are rampant:

  1. Establish a personal relationship of trust and mutual respect with each of your people. That means you really have to get to know your people, and not just on a superficial level. Don’t think that having company events like softball games or bowling nights absolves you from doing this, either. Many people don’t appreciate any company event they are expected to attend on their own time. Your people, believe it or not, may actually resent them and be demotivated as a result.
  2. Get your people involved in the business planning efforts for the firm. Again, I’m not suggesting holding hokey team-building events, or implementing a suggestion box program. I mean real participation and a chance to contribute substantively on how the firm will accomplish something. That takes management that is willing to listen and either act or explain why they cannot act. Ignoring the input is not an option unless you want to demotivate your people.
  3. Don’t preach austerity for them but not austerity for you. This always backfires. “We have to save money on coffee in the lunchroom, people. But hey, I’ll be skiing in Aspen next week!” That may seem like an extreme example, but this kind of stuff happens every day and it’s absolutely devastating to morale and motivation.
  4. Don’t expect them to work harder or put in more hours than top management. I feel like a broken record on this one because I keep saying it over and over. And with all the telecommuting people do these days it is harder than ever, but management needs to understand face time is as important for them as it is for everyone else in the company. Ignoring this reality is foolhardy.
  5. Bring them into the decisions on adding anyone to the team. That means that they need to meet the people you are considering hiring and get to express their opinion on whether or not any specific job candidate should be hired. If their opinion is not going to be considered, then they (the existing employee(s)) need to be told why. Don’t just avoid this important step unless you want to demotivate your people.
  6. Don’t implement trendy, buzzword-laden “panacea” management programs. I want to name specific ones here but we all know what they are and I don’t want to alienate any of our readers. The more buzzwords and program-unique terms in the program, whatever it is, the more likely it is your rank and file will make fun of it and be demotivated by it. Just watch movies and TV shows like Office Space or The Office, or read comic strips like Dilbert where management does stuff like this, if you don’t believe me. The reason these things strike a chord with so many is because they show how people actually feel about them. They are demotivated!
  7. Don’t ask them to do things you wouldn’t do yourself, or things that you wouldn’t be proud for anyone to find out that you are doing. This is always demotivating. It’s why I was the one who dragged in the trash bins every week at the office after they got picked up. I didn’t want to ask anyone else to do it.
  8. Don’t ask them to do things that are, by any standard, just a waste of time. A big one here is a requirement to participate in too many meetings. Long meetings that you don’t want or need to be at will suck the life force out of you and your people. So be careful how many meetings you want your people to attend.

To conclude, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what you are doing that demotivates your people. So just stop acting like there is nothing you can do about it and stop doing whatever that is – now! 

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

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.