5 sins managers make – that crush employee morale

Focus on removing de-motivators vs. trying to motivate

Managers often focus on incentive programs and other “flavor-of-the-month” ideas to improve employee morale. But there’s a simpler way to attack this: Identify and change the behaviors that are crushing motivation.

When employees start a job, most have tons of energy. They want to run thru walls to achieve great things. For many, something happens along the way that destroys their motivation.

That something is usually their manager.

Here’s a list of 5 common sins managers make – and specific steps to change those actions – courtesy of Cyndi Maxey

Public humiliation

This is a holdover from the outdated classic “command-and-control” management style. Dressing down employees in front of their co-workers is probably the least motivational tool available. There may well be times when managers have to correct employees in a group setting, but it should be done in a non-critical way.

Any overall comments on a worker’s performance (“That’s the third time you’ve screwed up this week”) should be made in private. If they’re made in front of an audience, the message is lost behind the workers’ feeling of humiliation.

Withhold praise

Hard to understand but many managers just can’t seem to be able to tell their reports they’re doing well.

Here’s an example of an employee whose supervisor rarely offered him an encouraging word. One day the employee was surprised when the manager stopped him and said, “I just want to let you know you’re doing a good job.” The employee was stunned for a minute, until the manager added: “They told me to say that at supervisor school to improve employee morale.” Nothing like a heartfelt pat on the back.

Don’t follow-up on ideas

Many managers give lip service to the idea of employee input – and a lot of them never act on any of the ideas they hear.

Not every idea is a good one. Some are too costly, some don’t fit the company’s overall plans, and some just won’t work.

But managers need – at the very least – to acknowledge employee contributions. And if an idea can’t be implemented, the employee should be told why.

Keep ’em guessing

Poor managers communicate in generalities, putting employees in the position of having to make assumptions about what is expected of them. It’s the old “No, that’s not right…I’ll know it when I see it.”

The technique is the ultimate productivity killer – not to mention its affect on employee morale. Without a clear set of expectations, how can employees possibly succeed?

Ignore individual differences

Of course, managers have to be consistent – you’ve hammered that into their heads in order to keep the company out of legal trouble.

But all employees are different. Everybody brings slightly different styles and values to their workplace experience. Too often, managers reward individuals who are most like them and punish those who are different, crushing employee morale.


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  1. kku Markku Hohtari says

    These are truly one of the worst mistakess that leaders do. And more worst is that these sins are still SO common at these days.

    Greit managers do have most of those areas in their hands and do well but even them can’t be goot at every area and are just humans making mistakes. What is scary is that more managers don’t even try to do things right that those who atleast try…without speaking the ones that really do.

    And then we don’t need to ask anymore why stuff in so many companies feel so unrespected and have low morale. Even stronges will fall eventually under lousy managament.

    I don’t personally give high respect those who doesn’t want to take care on individual differences, doesn’t respect professionality and or courage on good achievements by own talented ways, take all credits on their own, doesn’t share any information and keep own stuff in dark.

    My respect is earned by giving information where we are running and what is needed to do to get done what is needed in different situations, telling me sometimes how I do great job, giving all team members fair opportunities and being straight and trutfull in giving tasks or telling good and bad news.

    So I hope companies find right managers and train them to be fair and reasonable with human touch. So we all have better job places.

  2. Robyn Leyden says

    Thanks for writing a great article in very simple terms. While it is easy to think that this stuff is commonsense, it obviously isn’t because so many managers get it wrong.

  3. Bill Gum says

    Very good article. Especially the second “sin”. Being from a military background, you see it all too often where managers will berate someone in front of their peers. It’s not motivating, despite what some think.

  4. julie desmond says

    This list could be longer. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that challenge employee morale… I know of a manager who constantly rescheduled meetings with the team, missed one on ones completely, and basically implied day after day that his team came second to everything else. They could have done more to help him look good, but they couldn’t nail him down to tell him. Eventually, everyone on the team moved on to other companies.

  5. says

    Also true in motivating our children…and in relationship with our spouse. Our household rule is 1. Never embarrass your spouse (purposefully) in front of others. (my husband says, “Keep trying:)”
    2. If you tell a joke, make sure the other person is laughing too.
    My husband is really good at using humor in a high tense situation to lighten the mood, and put humor at his own expense.
    It eases the stress of differences of opinion.
    Love really does overcome a multitude of sins.
    Thanks for the reminders.

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