Stagnation: the enemy of employee motivation?

Employee stagnation is difficult to spot unless you know the signs and symptoms of an unmotivated team.

How satisfied are you with the current performance of your team? Could be better? Could be… a lot better?

Concerns with team motivation are rarely unwarranted. And with a new financial year just around the corner, now is the ideal opportunity (or excuse) to plan ahead and take stock of how your team has been performing since you hit the ground running back in January.

You may have started the year with a fresh mindset about your team. Aside from some minor team changes, you were optimistic. Four months into the year, however, and things are showing little signs of change. If your optimism is waning at the same rate as the motivation of some of your team members, you might have a case of ‘employee stagnation’ on your hands.

It’s all too familiar you may even have experienced it yourself: an employee is noticeably unmotivated, unenthusiastic and there’s palpable apathy. The root cause can be manifold. In its purest form though, it’s often aligned with a lack of, or slowing of, growth.

The good news is that this malaise is treatable. It has a set of diagnosable symptoms and is possible to cure, that is if you catch it in time. Employee stagnation is not only unproductive for business but it can also be the precursor to some of your top performers leaving.

Top signs of stagnation

The new financial year, and indeed the review season, is the ideal time to work out whether you have a single ‘stagnation’ case or an epidemic on your hands. Here are three of the telltale signs:

  1. Promotion paralysis: The person(s) in question has stopped asking, or indeed pushing, for their next step. This might be a promotion; it might be taking on more responsibility. Either way, they are no longer thinking about what the future looks like at your organisation. Remember: employees not focused on their future are less likely to be focused on your business’ future.

  2. Competition coma: This is when an employee who was once driven and determined, is no longer showing that fierce sense of competition against colleagues, against other departments, against competitor businesses. While too much competition can of course go the wrong way, an environment without it can lead to people not feeling challenged and result in missed deadlines and average work.

  3. Chronic complacency: Maybe the most common symptom, but often the trickiest to turn around. When an employee begins to take a complacent attitude to their daily tasks or has stopped proactively seeking new projects to get involved in it’s often a sign they’re not feeling engaged in the business. This may be because they don’t believe there is a reward (or promotion) at the end of the tunnel. Or worse, they’ve already started to ‘daydream’ about working elsewhere. It’s important to uncover what’s perpetuating this complacency.

Motivation medicine

Seem like you’ve got a potential outbreak? Time to take action and it doesn’t necessarily have to be drastic. While the main H1 (January to July) peak in hiring tends to be in March (according to our job advertisement data for 2016/17), replacing team members isn’t your only option and certainly shouldn’t be your first.

Here are a few ways you can motivate employees who are showing signs of stagnation:

  • Identify whether team dynamics are contributing to, or the cause of, the stagnation. Our Work Better Together quiz is a useful way to define differing working styles.

  • Revisit your development planning process. Is it giving employees a clear path for progression and growth?

  • Consider injecting new talent. Sometimes a new team member or leader can improve morale and kick-start energy or a renewed sense of competition.

While change isn’t always the answer, April can present the perfect time to reflect on where your team currently is and where it is headed.

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