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Help your staff get motivated again

Richard Smith

Almost everyone loses motivation at some point in their careers. As a leader it’s in your interests to take action, writes Dan Cable for Harvard Business Review.

When employees are discontented, they become disconnected and unproductive, which is frustrating for you and your managers. You might be tempted to ignore the problem or make it clear this is something they need to sort out for themselves, and quickly.

But it’s more productive to look at the reasons why they aren’t loving what they do and try to help them discover – or retrieve – their passion.


The first step, according to Cable, is to look more deeply at the reasons why we need to feel motivated.

Scientific research has established that our mammalian brains have something called the “seeking system” which is programmed to encourage us to keep learning and challenging ourselves.

Cable, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School says: “When we follow these urges, we receive a jolt of dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to motivation and pleasure – which make us want to engage in these activities even more. And, when our seeking systems are activated, we feel more motivated, purposeful and zestful. We feel more alive.”


When our seeking systems shut down, so does our motivation. While it’s not always possible to remove any organisational issues that effectively block employees’ creative input, there are some key measures you can take as a leader to give people more purpose and satisfaction in their work.

Three ways you can help to activate your employees’ seeking systems:

1) Encourage them to express themselves and play to their strengths. The simple act of identifying your own best qualities can be enough to trigger the seeking system. In discovering these individual qualities, an employee can see beyond the apparent tedium and inflexibility of their role and find ways to bring their unique strengths to play as part of a team.

“At both Make-A-Wish and Novant Health, for example, leaders encouraged employees to create their own job titles, a move which prompted people to highlight their unique contributions to their teams.”

2) Create a safe space for innovative play. The seeking system is activated when employees are encouraged to try out their ideas in an informal atmosphere where they can also interact with other potential innovators.

3) Demonstrate the cause and effect of their role. It gives a real sense of purpose when you can make a direct link between the work someone has done and how it affects others. Charity collectors introduced to the people who benefit from their pitches, for example, were motivated to raise more for the cause.

It’s disheartening when an employee, or even a whole team, loses their motivation. But it needn’t take much to fix it. Small measures to activate their seeking systems, consistently applied, can offer a long-term fix, without the need for major shifts in policy or protocol.

Source Article: Why People Lose Motivation
Author(s): Dan Cable