How to Ruin Employee Motivation

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Motivation Poison 1
Motivation Poison 2
Motivation Poison 3
Motivation Poison 4
Motivation Poison 5
Motivation Poison 6
Motivation Poison 7
Video: 7 Ways to Ruin Employee Motivation and Morale
Survey: How Leaders Destroy Employee Motivation
Motivation in the Workplace Article Series

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In nature, there are many different poisons that can bring sickness or death. Some poison comes from unlikely sources such as coral, while other poison comes from the usual suspects like snakes and scorpions. Regardless of the source, the one fact about poison is that it brings harm and maybe even death to those on whom it is afflicted.

Whether intentional or not, some leaders by their actions poison their working relationship with their employees. These actions ruin employee motivation and morale. They hurt or end  a leader’s ability to work effectively with his or her team.

The following are seven ways that leaders poison their relationships with their employees and ruin employee motivation and morale (the flawed thinking of these leaders that moves them to take these actions is in parenthesis):

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Motivation Poison 1:

Hire really talented people and then micromanage them to the point of making them ineffective.

Use excessive group meetings as a ploy to take decision-making authority from the people responsible for taking action. The thinking behind this strategy is to minimize the ability of the leader’s talented employees to work independently. Instead, the leader requires these employees to get approval before they can take any action.  (This will allow the leader to both maintain control of the work group and also keep these talented people from taking the leader’s job!)

Poisonous Leadership Action 1: Hire really talented people and then micromanage them until their frustrated with their jobs. Click To Tweet
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Motivation Poison 2:

Withhold critical information from employees.

Give employees just enough information so they can do their work but not too much information where they will look too good in their role or be too independent. The thinking behind this strategy is to allow the leader’s employees to meet performance goals without becoming organizational superstars.  (After all, the leader does not want his or her employees to outshine him or her or to work outside of his or her continual direct control!)

Poisonous Leadership Action 2: Hide critical information from employees so they can't do their jobs effectively. Click To Tweet
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Motivation Poison 3:

Maintain power over employees by pitting them against each other.  

Play employees against each other regularly. The thinking behind this strategy is to keep employees off-balance. The leader accomplishes this by arbitrarily, alternating who he or she rewards and punishes. In this environment, the employees fight each other for the leader’s favor.(The employees can’t oppose the leader if they are busy fighting each other!)

Poisonous Leadership Action 3: Keep employees fighting each other so they don't join forces against you. Click To Tweet
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Motivation Poison 4:

Reward your Yes-People; Punish those who disagree with you.

Reward submissive, marginal employees who will do whatever the leader wants without ever voicing a contrary opinion. Punish productive, vocal employees who have the nerve to both have their own opinion and to voice it to the leader when they disagree with him or her. The thinking behind this strategy is to create an environment where employees do not disagree with the leader. They only comply!  (The leader just needs “yes-people” working for him or her as the leader knows best about what the organization needs!)

Poisonous Leadership Action 4: Reward your yes-people and punish those who disagree with you. Click To Tweet
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Motivation Poison 5:

View employees as expendable relationships.

Keep employees as long as they help the leader reach his or her goals. The thinking behind this strategy is that employee satisfaction and workplace engagement are unimportant. When the leader views an employee as being uncooperative, the leader will get rid of that employee as soon as he or she can (regardless of the employee’s value to the organization). From this leader’s perspective, there are always talented people who the leader can hire. (It’s all about the bottom line and the leader maintaining his or her organizational power!)

Poisonous Leadership Action 5: View and work employees as if they are easily replaceable. Click To Tweet
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Motivation Poison 6:

Make resource allocation decisions based on power and control issues rather than on business needs. 

(This is a harmful variation of number 4 because it hurts the organization directly.) Use resource allocation to strengthen the leader’s control over his or her employees.  The thinking behind this strategy is to take resources away from those employees who the leader finds difficult and too vocal and give those resources to those employees who the leader finds compliant and silent. (Make employees think twice about giving the leader any trouble! Show them the consequences of crossing the leader versus the benefits of complying with whatever the leader wants!)

Poisonous Leadership Action 6: Use resources and rewards to consolidate your power over your employees. Click To Tweet
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Motivation Poison 7:

Don’t share credit! Keep employees busy and hidden.  

Make sure the leader is always the face and voice for the department, even if the leader is presenting their work. The thinking behind this strategy is that it is easier for the leader to keep control of his or her employees if the employees are not known and recognized in the organization for their talents. (Don’t share credit with employees!  It will take away from the leader’s organizational prestige. Worse, it may also allow one of those employees to take the leader’s job in the future!)

Poisonous Leadership Action 7: Take credit for other people's ideas and work. Click To Tweet
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These seven actions are known poison. Whether intentional or not, these poisonous leadership actions destroy employee engagement and organizational productivity and they stifle innovation. They ruin employee motivation as everyone feels the need to protect themselves.

Organizational turnover increases. Those with options elsewhere take them. Others, without any real options, just do what they can to survive the toxic relationship. The result of these seven poisonous leadership actions is the same: valuable working relationships are often forever harmed and sometimes destroyed. Organizational productivity declines and organizational costs increase (because organizational turnover is expensive).

Leaders can take a positive step and remove this poison from their everyday interactions. While the leader cannot do much about the milk he or she has spilled in the past, there’s no need to continue going down the wrong road. By taking an opposite view and approach to these practices, the leader will start getting better results.

Employees do want to work for good leaders who inspire them to give their best! 

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Video: 7 Ways to Ruin Employee Motivation and Morale

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Survey: How Leaders Destroy Employee Motivation

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Motivation in the Workplace Article Series

Whether intentional or not, poisonous leadership actions destroy employee motivation and morale. Click To Tweet
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

This article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge.
Content is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice in business, management, legal, or human resource matters.

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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