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Posted by on Aug 2, 2013 in Featured, Inspiration, Managing People | 13 comments

Are You Unmotivated At Work? Read This

Are You Unmotivated At Work? Read This


I worked with a lot of young people in my career. I lectured to over a thousand university students and later managed a large team of people, mostly in their 20’s. I noticed that these young professionals made one mistake more consistently than any other. This meant I ended up giving one piece of advice more than any other. This advice, in my opinion, is one of the most important lessons any young professional needs to learn for his/her career.

This mistake was their motivation. More specifically, their lack of motivation.

With a few exceptions, most would start in a “honeymoon” phase where they are super pumped up about work and excited to start their first job. Eventually, they became disappointed with something about the job (the repetitiveness, the speed of their career progress, the tough targets, how much they are learning from the job, etc).

It happened with almost everyone, but what varied was the timing. For some it was a few months for others it was closer to a year since they started work.

So what’s the problem?” you might ask.

The problem is their performance. It either takes a nose-dive or becomes an uninspiring flat-line (no improvement, no drop). What was common with everyone of them was that they could do much better.

As part of my process for managing the team, my assistant manager and I had regular review sessions with each person (monthly reviews, ad-hoc sessions, and an open-door policy for anyone to bring up an issue). We also consistently looked at measurable targets and soft issues such as behavior (mood, interaction with the rest of the team, engagement with work, etc). So it was easy to identify such issues and address them quickly before they spiralled into a bigger problem (e.g. person resigns) that might require more drastic actions (tam-tam-tam-taaaaam!).

So when I sit down with someone and hear the words “Noor, I’m unmotivated!“, I can’t help but smile. Of course I would hear the person out to understand the problem. I took notes and made sure to fix issues with the team that came up.

However (insert build-up dramatic music in the background), just to be clear: there is always a problem in your company or team that needs to be improved… always. It’s not enough to leave it there.

My response to the statement was always:

“[insert name] motivation is a choice, not a symptom.” I normally pause for a few seconds to let it sink in. Most don’t get it right away, because they would already have emotional build-up.

That’s when I would elaborate…

Everyone gets disappointed with something at work.

A fresh graduate might feel s/he is not growing or learning from the job. A middle manager might be fed up being sandwiched between a demanding boss and team. A senior manager might be frustrated with the rate of growth for the company and the resistance to change. An entrepreneur might be frustrated with the demands made by the investors and board of directors. Maybe you hate someone in the office or the boss is annoying. You get the idea, this list can go on forever. Some have a very legitimate reason to be upset and frustrated.

The important lesson was that becoming unmotivated because of whatever is frustrating you is a mistake.

Motivation is a choice, not a consequence.

If necessary, I would give the example of three people getting stuck in a traffic jam. One gets angry and worked up about it, the second quietly panics about the meeting he will miss, while the third sits back and listens to music until the traffic improves (or listens to an audiobook to get something with intellectual calories).

When I see a lightbulb moment happening on his/her face, then I know we are half way there. I would explain that if you are unhappy with your job, you have choices:

1- Make the best of the situation: You roll up your sleeves and become part of the solution rather than a victim. Go up to the boss and propose a solution to the problem instead of passively complaining about what is wrong.

2- Leave: There are two ways you can do this.

a- You look for an alternative that suites your life plans better and move to it as quickly as possible. In the meantime, you deliver great work until your last day, hour, minute, and second.

b- You decide to become demotivated. You slack off (e.g. show up late & leave early, become a Facebook elite, play online games at work, gossip and waste time on anything but work). You justify your behavior by victimizing yourself and blaming someone else for this instead of yourself. You do that until you leave or get fired.

3- Cruise: You go with the flow and do the minimum at work… just enough to stay under the radar and out of trouble. You tell yourself “I give them what they pay me for“.

I advize people at this point to do either option #1 or #2a.

That means, if the person’s career goals and the job are in line, then make the best of the situation and lean into your work.

If the person wants a career in a different field or has another reason that makes her/him and the job a wrong fit, then my advice for the person is to leave for work that fits her/his career goals. I would help anyway I can (e.g. transfer to a department in the company that fits her goals or connect her with people that might employ her in the field she wants). Note: I would only do that if s/he has been a good performer. The last thing I want to do is dump a problem on another department head. Also if you lean in and find there is no room for improvement (e.g. your boss is not responsive and the problems that frustrate you persist) then you should also leave.

If you decide to leave and slack off (i.e. #2b) you will be burning bridges and tarnishing your reputation. Be professional and deliver great work until your last second.

The worst thing you can do is to cruise. You might end up keeping the job because you are doing the required, but you will be robbing yourself of great experience and holding back your potential. Venture capitalists use the term “Walking Dead” for companies they invest in that don’t go anywhere (neither take off or go bust… they just float along with no improvement… leaving their investment to collect dust). The investment being lost here is your career though. You will deprive yourself of opportunities that open up to the high-potential people and convince yourself there is favouritism going on when you get passed up on these opportunities.

Do yourself a favor and lean into your work. Do good great work and be a positive contributor to solve issues. As a benefit, you will:
– Learn more in the process by getting your hands dirty
– Open doors for advancement in that company, especially if your contribution solves a big problem
– Keep strong bridges in the future with people you work with (your boss, colleagues, employees, or even customers) who down the line will remember you. They might even become customers.
– Take charge of your career rather than wait for someone to give you a break.
– Happily pass this advice on to someone and feel super cool about it.

What advice do you give your team? Do you know someone who needs to hear this advice? Go ahead and share this article with him/her.


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