Motivating a Workforce That Can’t Be Motivated

You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t want to be motivated. BUT… you can create the right environment that will set the stage for motivation. Give employees the tools to feel competent in their jobs. First, you must find out what will motivate, and what won’t! 

Just yesterday a small business owner called my office, his voice rather hopeful when he asked, “Jane, do you have some sort of video I can show to my employees to get them motivated?”

A couple of key things about motivation that this and every manager should know are: you really can’t motivate anybody to do anything, but you can create the right conditions for motivation to occur intrinsically (within one’s self).

You, as a manager (or parent or coach for that matter), must create ideal conditions in an environment that sets the stage for motivation, if indeed you want a workforce that digs a little deeper, pushes a bit harder, is creative and innovative. And you do, don’t you?

What Doesn’t Motivate

Money. We all need it to support our families and ourselves. It’s definitely an incentive. But compensation, which includes pay and benefits, doesn’t motivate; it normally activates employees to do the minimum that is required in their job descriptions.

Competition. Whether in the form of sales contests, piecework incentives, or close supervision, competitive methods may seem to increase motivation and productivity. The perception is that they can and do, for a little while anyway. The down side is that even with this perceived increase in motivation and productivity, the desire of the individual to engage in the activity for its own sake is depleted. You see, with intrinsic motivation, the reward is the activity itself!

Recognition. Praise and rewards are excellent ways to say, “Job well done.” They are necessary in a consistent way for employees to gauge their performance, but should not be used as motivator. Such contingent use of rewards and praise makes employees wonder what your motives may be. In other words the employee says, “Now what does she want from me?”

Disciplinary Action. Negative feedback can be disastrous if employees are made to feel incompetent and controlled. While we cannot ignore poor performance, we can be autonomy-supportive in our manner of approach. This simply means that we try to see things from the employee’s perception and we offer an opportunity for self-direction.

What Does Motivate

Since intrinsic motivation is key to an employee’s performance and fulfillment on the job, create an environment where intrinsic motivation can flourish! Here’s how.

Make sure employees have the expertise and tools they need to be, and feel, competent to do the job that’s been entrusted to them. This may be in the form of physical tools, office equipment, skills training, or certain communication strategies.

Seek to understand their point of view by trying to see things from the employee perspective. Don’t know what it is? Ask them. Conduct an anonymous survey if need be. Talk to your customers, too.

Allow employees to make their own choices. Let them choose the ways and methods to get the results you’re looking for. Let them have a say in how things get done and what the outcome is expected to be.

Be responsive to employees. Show employees that you see them as human beings with a set of personal values and principles that they bring to the job.

Let them discover their own authenticity, which in turn leads them to act out of self-direction (autonomy). Assist them in their search to discover their destinies, both on the job and off, and you will have employees realizing personal fulfillment. Then, explore the ways that employees’ values, principles and destiny line up (align) with those of your company — and wow! Synergy!

In our guidebook, we explore how companies can do all this, and on a limited budget, too. Investing in employees will provide high returns in ways you will see, hear, and feel including increased productivity and innovation, creative problem solving, reduced turnover and lower absenteeism.

Jane Miller consults on Authenticity in the Midst of Chaos, motivation and personal & professional development. Reach Jane at 1.888.510.2665. Email:

Get started image

Ready to get started?

Get the expert support you need

Related Articles

Generation X and Y Employees: Slackers or Stars?

by Team ZenBusiness, on November 28, 2023

A Sense of Humor in the Workplace

by Team ZenBusiness, on November 28, 2023

Common Recruitment Mistakes Startups Make

by Team ZenBusiness, on November 28, 2023

Resolving Workplace Conflict: 4 Ways to a Win-Win Solution

by Team ZenBusiness, on November 28, 2023

The Perfect Pair: How to Create a Guest Room/Home Office Combo

by Team ZenBusiness, on November 28, 2023

How To Attract and Retain Millennials for Your Small Business

by Team ZenBusiness, on November 28, 2023

Start Your LLC Today