Why it’s so hard to motivate your employees and how to overcome motivation fatigue

 Motivation can be a challenge for business owners. However, with the right approach and tools, you can help your employees stay motivated and productive. In the following article, we will explore our common way of motivating employees, how that approach isn't good enough anymore and what we as leaders can do to improve employee motivation.


Motivating employees can be a challenge, especially when it comes to keeping them motivated for long periods of time. However, there are a few things that you can do to help keep them engaged and excited about their work. Intrinsic motivation is the most lasting form of motivation and often leads to employees feeling passionate about their work. Offering purpose and meaning along with a paycheck is also important, as it helps employees feel like they are part of something larger than themselves. Additionally, giving your employees opportunities for professional development or team-building activities can improve morale and keep them enthusiastic about their job. Finally, listening to your employees and understanding what motivates them is essential in finding the best way to motivate them.

 Motivation can be a challenge for business owners. However, with the right approach and tools, you can help your employees stay motivated and productive. In the following article, we will explore our common way of motivating employees, how that approach isn’t good enough anymore and what we as leaders can do to improve employee motivation.

Motivating employees can feel challenging

Motivating employees can be a challenge due to a number of factors. Most leaders are not in the luxury position of having extra time on their hands, their day-to-day job is demanding as it is. And because of this leaders often find themselves having too little time to understand their people better. 

Besides the lack of time, motivation can often seem fleeting. One day your employee might come in extremely motivated only for this initial motivation to disappear completely the next day. This in itself can feel demotivating when we see ourselves as the one who is in part responsible for motivating them. 

Another reason why motivating others might be hard for us as leaders. Many leaders have, over time, found a way to motivate themselves, this often started at an early age when we had to fight for something to get it. That fight has moved on into our daily life even though the reason we started the fight is no longer there. Today’s generation no longer needs to fight the way the older generations needed to. And so the younger generations are finding it extra hard to find motivation, it’s never been part of their lives. This also makes it hard for you to help them, as you do not understand where they come from and vice versa.

Why most motivation techniques used today do not work 

By now you as a business owner have learned that what motivates people can vary greatly, so it’s too easy to employ general techniques to motivate all employees. And yet, many leaders still apply general techniques to get their teams to feel more motivated. These techniques are often described as the carrot and the stick.

The carrot and the stick work great in the short term and for people who are in a survival situation. When you need bread on the table at night, you’ll be easily motivated by money or the food that’s being offered to you. Children are also often motivated by carrots and sticks. A new toy or the thought of punishment works well to motivate kids to move into action. 

In business settings, the carrot and the stick are frequently used. The carrot is often a bonus, dinner or a voucher. The stick is obviously a negative consequence if the employee doesn’t do a certain thing. A recent example of a stick is Elon Musk telling everyone to come back to the office or else they would lose their jobs. And Mark Zuckerberg’s stick was carefully worded as: “everyone needs to increase their productivity or else…”.   Carrots and sticks are not necessarily bad, but their effect is often short-term.

The carrot and stick approach can also be called, extrinsic motivation. The motivator is outside of yourself. When you performe a certain way you get rewarded by X or when you show this behaviour you receive Y as a repercussion. As said, the effects of extrinsic motivators are often short-lived. 

What usually lasts longer are intrinsic motivators. These are the reasons we have created internally for why we want to do or be something. Intrinsic motivators align with our core values and are often strengthened by specific experiences. For example, a professional runner will wake up every morning at 4 to go and run for an hour whether it rains or shines. The runner might have a conviction or internal motivation that this is the only thing she lives for.  Similarly, a nurse would go to work each day with a smile on his face knowing that he will make a difference in someone’s life. The intrinsic motivation is often bigger and in many ways more meaningful than the extrinsic motivator. 

Ideally, everyone would come to work with intrinsic motivations. The reality is, however, that intrinsic motivations are harder to tap into, certainly when most of the world grows up with carrots and sticks as the norm. 

Offer purpose along with a paycheck.

Are employees motivated by their paycheck? That’s the age-old question. This debate could really be a post on its own, but let’s just agree that everyone in your organisation should be paid fairly for their efforts, skills and talents. 

It’s probably also fair to say that, as long as decent base pay is in place, most people do not seek money as their main motivation in life. When the bottom part of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is covered, most people would be looking for a more meaningful expression of their lives. If you’re looking to create a longer-lasting impact. They want to feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. Employees need to feel as if they are part of a team, working towards a meaningful goal (not just increasing the company’s profits) and these days many want to feel that they are part of making the world a better place.

Make employees feel appreciated and invested.

William Arthur Ward said: “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”. Recognition is one of the most important ways that you can show your employees that they’re doing a good job. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but it should be specific, personal and timely.

A simple “I appreciate how much time and energy you put into this project!” is better than nothing, but it’s also fairly generic and leaves room for doubt as to how seriously you mean what you say. A more concrete statement like “You were able to handle several projects at once and still meet our deadline — thank you!” shows that you know exactly what they did well while also spotlighting their accomplishment in actionable terms (showing up on time).

Provide opportunities for professional development.

One of the main emotive drives for humans is to keep on developing themselves. Recognize this need in your people by providing them with opportunities to grow, learn new skills, develop their talents or take more responsibility.  These opportunities don’t have to be formal or expensive—they can come from volunteering at work or in the community, working on an independent side project that will help you grow professionally and mentoring someone (or being mentored).

Encourage team-bonding activities.

Let’s not mistake team bonding with team-building activities. Team-building is too often an exercise with very little measurable outcome and it certainly isn’t a motivation for most to stay or work harder in the job. Team bonding, the focus on growing team relationships, helps employees feel there’s always someone that has their back which can have a profound effect on your employee’s motivation. 

Give your employees the opportunity to fail.

Have you ever considered promoting failure as a way for your team to do their work? Continuous failure and a push to know there is a way to do ‘the impossible’ has helped some organisations such as Tesla and SpaceX achieve the unthinkable. Promoting failure in a company culture means it needs to be embraced by everyone and specifically at the leadership level. 

Most people have a tendency to default to judging themselves and others, something that doesn’t work well when failure is part of your culture. Time and effort need to be spent on avoiding negative thinking and judging self and others when executing a project. Combined with positive and constructive criticism you have a formula that will keep your employees invested and motivated.

Listen to your employees, especially when it comes to their well-being.

Listening to your employees, especially when it comes to their well-being, can make a huge difference. There are many ways we can listen to the people around us. What’s important here is to be authentic, stay present and listen because you really want to know more about their situation. Your employee’s motivation will grow when they know the people they work with have their back, especially when they’re in a challenging situation in their life.

When you authentically listen to what your employees have to say, you’ll be able to address issues that are important to them and keep morale up in the process.

Finding the right tools can help you motivate your employees in the most effective way possible.

There are many ways to motivate your employees, as a leader we are now required to tap into an ever-expanding toolbox of human skills to make people see that we have the best intentions for their journey in life. But we have to also recognize that the employee has to drive the discovery of their own motivators. Some will be motivated by just the extrinsic drivers, but a growing number want to discover their own purpose and drives. What’s important in today’s world is that we take time for each employee and treat them as an individual with individual human needs. With a culture that’s based on real values and an allow them to fail but the most effective tool will always be listening to them. The most important thing is that you listen and take action on what they say, even if it doesn’t seem right in the moment.

Ticking all the above boxes isn’t an easy task, but it’s important for us as leaders to try and incorporate some of this each day to keep and grow a motivated team.

Are you keen to grow your business by building a motivated and engaged team? Find out how we approach employee engagement and sign up for a complimentary strategy session.

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Maarten van Rijn

Maarten van Rijn

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