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Talent Management

How NOT to Motivate Employees: 10 Management Habits to Break Now

Feeling unmotivated? Uninspired? Disengaged? You’re not alone. “There’s a lot of valid reason we’re feeling burned out,” says Holly Green, workplace management expert and best-selling author of the book More Than a Minute: How to Be an Effective Leader and Manager in Today’s Changing World.

“It’s because we are,” she says.

I recently spoke with Green about the amount of stress managers are under today to re-engage their employees in an increasingly stressful work environment. If employees think they’re the only ones who need a break these days, Green says, they should think again.   “Managers are feeling the same way. And when you’re burned out, it’s that much harder to think about engaging someone else.”

So rather than add one more thing to the already-overstretched manager’s to do list, perhaps it would be easier to simply know what NOT to do…Green was kind enough to offer the following advice on how NOT to manage your employees.

Top 10 Things Managers Should NOT Do To Engage Employees:

  1. Don’t Practice the Halo Effect. This is when a manager assumes that, because someone has one good quality, the person is great at everything, preventing managers from seeing the opportunities for improvement; similarly, managers should also avoid the opposite of the halo effect – the devil effect.
  2. Don’t Humiliate or Demean Employees (especially not in front of others).
  3. Don’t Withhold Feedback because you assume your employees already know where they need to improve or will “figure it out” on their own. “If you’re going to be a good manager, it is essential that you get good at giving feedback,” Green says. That means both constructive and negative feedback.
  4. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Ongoing One-on-One Conversations to build trusting, more productive relationships with your employees.
  5. Don’t Assume Your Team Knows What Winning Looks Like. “A manager’s most important role is to clarify what winning or excellence looks like, and then help people achieve it for themselves and the organization – you can’t over communicate in this regard.”
  6. Don’t Assume People Understand Your Reasoning behind decisions. By the same token, don’t blame any decisions on “upper management,” “the HR department” or anyone else. Employees see right through that.
  7. Don’t Forget That Praise is About Them, Not You. When recognizing employees, pause and consider what the individuals would want to receive and how they would want to receive it.  “For some people, presenting to the senior executive team could be a big perk and considered a reward for a job well done; for others, this could be the worst possible and most stressful of all scenarios,” Green says. Likewise, don’t give lavish public praise to someone who is very private, a Starbucks card to someone who doesn’t drink coffee or tea, or buy a cake for someone with dietary restrictions.
  8. Don’t Speak Negatively About Other Team Members, their peers or senior management and leaders.
  9. Don’t Give ‘Sandwich’ Feedback. While many managers were taught to give sandwich feedback (saying something good, sneaking in something negative and then quickly saying something good again), this method only “leaves the receiver wondering what the heck was the point,” Green says.
  10. Don’t Ever Stop Recruiting. “Folks need to be re-recruited and re-energized – especially after the past few years.”

Anything you would you add to this list? What “habits” have you broken (or would like to see others break)? DO share in the comments below!

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.

Derek and Mary,  any suggestiones on how to help change the "actively disengaged" state as a manager when you feel the same way, i've been trying for over 3 years to help my current employment see we need to change these things and have finally broken to seeing things just like many of my employees are...  i have brought this to both the highest supervisor and the Owner himself, and nothing seems to be changing for anything more than a week at a time.  Any suggestions help as i'm too ready to cut and run at this point. 

Mary Lorenz
Mary Lorenz

Thanks for your comments, Derek! And I'm glad you brought up the point about being specific in being recognized for an achievement. Generic recognition is almost as bad as no recognition at all!

Derek Irvine, Globoforce
Derek Irvine, Globoforce 1 Like

Great post. I could comment on every point, but will limit myself to the importance of feedback, both constructive and recognition for a job well done.

Gallup research showed:
• Managers who focus on employee strengths have 61% engaged employees and 1% actively disengaged

• Managers who focus on employee weaknesses have 45% engaged employees and 22% actively disengaged

• Managers who ignore their employees have 2% engaged employees and 40% actively disengaged

Employees need to know how they're doing. It's best if you focus on strengths, but also address weaknesses when necessary.

And when recognizing for achievement -- be specific! Tell the person exactly what they did, why it was important and how it contributed to the bigger picture. Employees crave context as well.

(Gallup research cited here:


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