How to Destroy Employee Motivation

Earlier in my career, I worked for a tech company in the Boston area. My managers were my coaches and my biggest supporters. Our four-person team was very collaborative and it was a fun environment.

Over time, my managers left the company to take outside promotions. I stayed on because I was dedicated to our team and our product mission. After my second manager left, I was assigned a new manager – let’s call her Kim. From the beginning, we didn’t get along. It wasn’t until recently that I realized what I could have done to change the situation.

Kim and I were in two different offices, separated by at least 1,500 miles. In our weekly meetings I would provide a bulleted list of the items I had worked on in the previous week. The meetings ended quickly, as neither of us found any value in them.

By the third month of working for Kim, I was becoming more and more frustrated with my work situation. We rarely met, so we rarely spoke. When we did speak, I was told what to do and how to do it (a classic case of micro-managing). And I heard from my co-workers that the only way to be successful on her team was to adapt to her management style.

It was around this time that our team had a group planning meeting, during which Kim and I were scheduled to meet in person for the first time. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Kim devoted most of her visit to other work matters. This sent me the message that I was not a high priority for her.

From there, I became increasingly more disengaged. My manager showed no interest in me or my work and I responded in kind. Eventually, our weekly check-ins stopped for good. And shortly after that, I met with Kim for the last time as I was asked to leave the company.

In the years since then, I considered the options I could have taken to improve my situation and thought about how Kim could have been a better manager.

Instead of just preparing my bullet list for review in our weekly check-ins, I could have explained my situation to Kim and asked for her advice on how to be successful on her team. This would have moved the conversation from mundane tasks to growth-oriented activities.  And when I became disengaged, I could have turned to my human resources representative for similar advice.

Kim could have also done her part to make me feel welcome on her team. She assumed that I knew how to work with her and gave no guidance on what success looks like for her. When we were at our group planning meeting, Kim could have made more of an effort to meet with me in person and demonstrate her commitment to me.

We both approached the situation from a negative perspective. If we had made a point to interact with each other more often, we could have better adjusted to our new working relationship.

Have you ever been in a situation where your manager was not coaching you and it lead to a soured relationship? Have you ever had an employee who disengages from his or her work, resulting in poor performance? What did you do?

To learn more about how managers can be better coaches, check out this post on findings from the 2016 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey.