A lot is written about motivation, especially when it comes to employees. “You are what you think about.” “In order to succeed, we must first believe.”  “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” While all of this is quite nice to read, rarely does it really impact folks’ lives. In fact, if you’re busting your butt digging a ditch or nailing shingles, someone saying this kind of trite stuff is more likely to make you angry than encourage you. Rather than focus on fluffy quotes, let’s talk about some of the things bosses do to demotivate.

1. Avoid the collective We will take care of it.”

Years ago, one of my first bosses was famous for telling people that he rarely helped with anything and mostly played golf. We would take care of it was code for, ‘I am going to play golf and my staff will work themselves to death to do this because I told them to.’ He took credit for being part of the team and never played a single down. Be careful of talking about ‘we’ if you’re not going to pitch-in yourself. Give credit where credit is due. Simply say, “The accounting department (or whatever is appropriate) will look into this and take care of it for you.” 

2. Try to minimize busy work.

Good employees have a strong sense of purpose. Making people do busy work destroys that purpose. Forcing people to haul shingles up onto the roof when it could have been preloaded or forcing people to dig something by hand rather than excavating can be demoralizing. The trick is to explain to people why it has to be hand loaded or dug by hand.   People aren’t stupid and if you make them do stupid things without an explanation, they become disenchanted. 

3. Don’t play seagull.

Seagulls show up on the job, squawk, dump on people and leave. Visit jobs, but do so because people are making you money and you appreciate their efforts. Workers care about your money if you do. If they never see you on the job, they assume they’re doing great and there’s plenty of money to go around. Point out what’s right as well as what’s wrong.

4. Avoid comparisons.

Never compare yourself to your workers or compare other workers to one another, it creates an unhealthy environment. Strong people will perform. Weaker people need to become more self-confident and be supported.   

5. Lack of performance feedback.

Contractors are notorious for not providing career and growth goals for employees. Few have an official HR department and many are too busy working to take the time to communicate. I recently spoke to a contractor who had just lost a long-term employee who will be sorely missed. I asked the contractor why he left. He said that the disgruntled employee complained he never had a review or feedback on how he was doing. I asked when the last time he spoke with him about performance was and he couldn’t remember. People like to know how they’re doing and that what they’re doing matters. Be careful of taking good employees for granted.

6. Ignoring underperforming family and friends.

An employee’s job is his or her livelihood. If you have favorites or family members who are underperforming, good employees will ultimately leave. They understand that blood is thicker than water and don’t want to place their job in jeopardy. Remember, employees have family and your job feeds that family. Just because you see your business as a family dynasty doesn’t mean they have the same long-term vision. 

7. Don’t preach or lecture people.

Communication is a two-way street. Rather than lecture people, ask questions. This is particularly important when addressing attitude or behavioral problems. Employees know what time they need to come to work, lecturing them doesn’t work. Instead make it clear they will lose their job and what they can do to ensure they will be on time in the future. 

8. Avoid pay injustice.

Too many contractors pay based on seniority, with tenured employees possibly being overpaid and high performing newcomers not getting paid in proportion to what they’re contributing.  If you have rapidly advancing employees, make sure you’re compensating them based on performance, not length of time with the company.

9. Poor one-on-one communication.

Employees work for their direct report. Make sure your supervisors are communicating with their employees. Many foreman and superintendents aren’t very good at this. To each employee, the person above them is the company. If you have supervisors who aren’t good communicators, somehow you must overcompensate for this. 

Finding and keeping good employees is a challenge. Make sure you’re keeping in touch with your organization and not inadvertently demoralizing them.