Are you a workplace demotivator?


Sep 3rd, 2013

We live in an over-motivated world. Everywhere we turn, someone is ready to share their views on motivation – how to do it, how to find it, how to use it. But is motivation really the key to success in the workplace? After all, don’t most of us start a new job or join a new organisation already motivated to succeed?

“The fact that today’s workplace seems so full of people that are either indifferent or outright negative about their work or their own role suggests that somewhere along the line they’ve been demotivated,” says Marko Divac, project manager at specialist software and solutions company DVT.

Speaking at a recent Project Management South Africa (PMSA) Western Cape event in Cape Town, Divac is raising awareness about the common behaviours both managers and their staff exhibit every day – often subconsciously – that can, if left unchecked, demotivate even the most positive professionals.

Figures show that up to 50 per cent of people in the U.S. are not engaged in their work environment, and up to 20 per cent are actively disengaged. In China the numbers are even bleaker – 68 per cent and 26 per cent respectively, leaving less than 6 per cent of workers engaged. South African statistics likely sit somewhere between the two.

“I’m really just observing human behaviour, and doing so from my own experience in a long career that’s seen me sit on both sides of the management ‘divide’,” says Divac. “It doesn’t matter how experienced or ‘hardened’ we think we are, we can still be affected by the behaviour of others, and our own behaviour almost always has an effect on those around us.

“As managers in particular we have a responsibility to take stock and look at ourselves for any signs that our actions could negatively impact our staff or fellow managers,” says Divac. “Likewise as employees it is up to us to find ways to communicate our feelings about the positive and – more often – negative behaviours of our colleagues and managers in the workplace, even though it’s not always easy to do so.

“I’m not talking about blatant behaviour that’s already governed by laws or societal norms. Demotivational behaviour is usually subtle, and more often than not the perpetrator (and ‘victim’) isn’t even aware that it’s happening.”

Divac lists ten examples of behaviours that should be avoided:

• “Motivate”: deliberate tasks in an attempt to motivate someone
• “Us and Them” culture: encouraging or turning a blind eye
• Meetings that waste people’s time
• Micromanaging of subordinates and co-workers
• “Your time is not as valuable as my time”
• Instructions overload: numerous/confusing instructions
• “Lead” by (bad) example
• Excessive workload and unrealistic deadlines
• Take a ride: abuse the system or protect people that do it
• Micro-inequities: subtle/intangible discrimination

“Micromanagement is a good example of a common behaviour that does more harm than good, regardless of how difficult we find it as managers to show restraint when colleagues or staff are underperforming or making mistakes.

“Other behaviours, like micro-inequity, are particularly harmful and yet so difficult to detect because as individuals we don’t normally see ourselves as perpetrating them. Have you ever walked into an important meeting with a group of senior and junior colleagues and then failed to introduce one or more of the juniors? You may have done so unintentionally but repeated often this behaviour can lead to feelings of stress and isolation.

“This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor does it suggest a scale of importance – these are all potentially destructive behaviours in the workplace,” he says.

PMSA is a voluntary professional association representing the interests of project, program and portfolio management practitioners in South Africa. As an autonomous representative body PMSA continues to look for ways to improve its value to members and the extent to which it represents South Africa’s project managers in different forums.

As part of its charter, PMSA Western Cape holds monthly speaking events in and around Cape Town, attracting professionals from a broad range of industries looking to educate and inform like-minded professionals about issues, challenges and opportunities in their business communities.