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Top 5 Ways to Demotivate Your Best Employees

Conventional wisdom holds that your best employees are the ones who show up on time, do all their work, and chum it up at the water cooler. But what if that’s not true, and your hardest-working employees are the ones who are facing obstacles to recognition?

Is it possible that you’re rewarding the employees who are gaming the system? Motivating and keeping the employees who ultimately contribute to your company’s success is an art and science.

Unfortunately, many business owners get swayed by the charismatic, glitzy employees — and fail to acknowledge the ones actually doing the work! This means that your company might lose talent that could elevate you to the next level. Here are the top ways that bosses demotivate their best employees.

Top 5 Ways to Demotivate Your Best Employees

1. Reward arbitrary achievements rather than accomplishments

Most Employee of the Month point to hard data, such as a perfect attendance record or number of deals closed. While those are certainly important metrics of an employee’s performance, they can easily be skewed or misinterpreted. And sometimes, they come down to luck of the draw. What if one of your sales rep closed an exceptionally difficult lead and major account even though they were struggling with personal issues all month?

Does the other rep who simply showed up on time every day and happened to have easy leads really deserve Employee of the Month over them? Making it a numbers game glosses over the complexity of your business.

What to do instead: Take the time to dig deep into each employee’s respective challenges and achievements, and evaluate them on an individual basis rather than according to an arbitrary metric.

2. Force employees to conform to their work styles

Everyone has a unique work style. Even with different workflows or preferred tools, it’s not only possible but lucrative for people to work together as a team. Demanding that employees conform to the boss’s work style is a good way to harm their productivity and demoralize them. There’s little reason to demand that employees follow the exact same work schedule or utilization of company tools. As long as they meet deadlines and communicate with team members, let them be.

What to do instead: Choose a flexible project management system, such as Trello or Asana, that can accommodate multiple work styles, and use a communication-forward management style that ensures all employees are on the same page.

3. Micromanage their work

Micromanaging is almost always a sign of an insecure boss. Don’t be one of them! Trust that your employee will perform their work on schedule and produce great work. Avoid the temptation to breathe down their neck or control the way they do their job. That’s a great way to demoralize them and make them feel like you don’t trust them. Their productivity will likely decline if you keep constant tabs on their activity and make them feel watched or controlled.

What to do instead: Unless you have sincere reason to believe that they are doing something unconscionable — or simply not doing their work — leave them be.

4. Play favorites

The quickest way to demotivate your best employees is to show your preference for a different great employee. It’s human nature to form friendships with other people, and as a boss, you’ll definitely have your favorite. The difference between having a favorite and showing favoritism lies in your ability to treat all employees fairly, even if you personally like one or two of them better.

What to do instead: Keep your personal preferences to yourself and make an effort to openly acknowledge the good work of all your employees.

5. Ignore their innovations

You likely feel a lot of ownership over the way your company operates. Still, the key to being a successful business owner is to be open to feedback — including suggestions from your employees. Your best employees are the ones who leverage their expertise and provide insight to help improve your business. If you communicate to them that you’re not interested in their thoughts, you’re harming their overall impression of you and your company. That can demotivate their work or breed resentment in them.

What to do instead: Aim to have an open-door policy and be open to employee suggestions. Regularly ask for input and be willing to adjust things such as your project management system, workflow, task assignments, and so on to better accommodate your employees’ strengths and needs.

Wrapping Up

Managing a team is challenging, but emphasizing communication and celebrating individual achievements are great first steps to motivating your employees rather than demotivating them. If you want your best talent to stay, look beyond charisma or numbers to acknowledge and celebrate innovation, grit, devotion, and other characteristics that make your company tick.

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