How to demotivate people

By | September 30, 2019

Abraham Lincoln’s “you can’t please all the people all of the time” is certainly true, but sometimes we make the situation worse unnecessarily.

Here’s my list of 10 ways to demotivate people in a working environment that are all avoidable:

1. Refer to people as “Resources”

Printers, paper, pens, computers are resources; people aren’t. Referring to “people” or “team” works for me.

2. Talk over someone when they are speaking

It’s just rude. Stop it. Let them speak and wait for them to tell you they have finished talking.

3. Explain something to someone who doesn’t need an explanation

I don’t like the term ‘mansplaining’ but it does tend to be men who do this. Unsure whether you’re guilty? See @ElleArmageddon’s chart.

4. Take credit for someone else’s work

My first proper boss went out of their way to make sure people got the credit for their work and it has stuck with me ever since.

5. Remove any shred of autonomy

Dan Pink’s Drive introduced the concept that, once we have achieved a satisfactory level of income, we are more motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy means different things to different people, so agree what autonomy your teams have early on, then trust them to get on with the work.

Please note that self-organising and self-managing mean different things: self-organising teams decide who will do the work and how they will do it; self-managing teams decide who will do the work, how they will do it as well as what they will do. Which one are you?

6. Remove opportunities to learn

Pink explains that mastery is another important motivator. We get off on getting better at things (that’s why most people like learning to play a musical instrument). We like to learn and get better. This includes getting better at skills relevant to our jobs and learning new ways of doing things.

We hire experts and want them to remain experts, right? So when should people hone their skills? After a long day at work? At the weekend?! How about on company time?

7. Fail to make the WHY clear

Think Dan Pink’s point on purpose and add a dash of Simon Sinek’s WHY. Why should we get out of bed? What is the point of my work? Not understanding that is a serious downer.

Closely linked to this is not having a clear understanding of how your organisation’s portfolio of projects relate to each other and how your work fits into that portfolio.

8. Run bad meetings

Stop! Before you send out that meeting invitation, consider:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting?
  • What is the desired outcome of the meeting?
  • How long is the meeting? Don’t make it longer than it needs to be, but also allow enough time to get achieve the outcome
  • Who needs to be in the meeting? Do you really need everyone you were planning on inviting? Have you checked that people are available (i.e. don’t already have a meeting in their calendar)?
  • Where is the meeting going to be held? If you are all in the same location, find a room to do it face-to-face. If you have to run it online, can you do it using a tool that allows you to see each other (e.g. Zoom)? Can everyone use that tool and do they know how to?
  • Is anything blocking the attendees achieving the desired outcome?

Satisfied you’ve got all that covered? Good. Now put most of that information in the meeting invitation.

9. Dictate where and when to work

Watching the clock and commenting on when people arrive/leave the office/take lunch, asking people to log the time they spend working on various tasks, forcing ridiculous working from home policies on people (yes, that includes insisting people work from home for a set number of days — some people don’t want to and/or don’t have the set-up for it).

I’m tempted to add hot desking in here too: I love it, but some people prefer to have a regular desk which they can personalise.

10. Remove all fun

Who said we can’t have fun at work? But please note there is a difference between fun and lame/pointless/uncomfortable.


I limited myself to ten. What else should we add to the list?

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