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The art of managing "demotivation" in the Pakistani workplace

Demotivators exist because they are allowed to and they remain because little has been done about them

Jan-28 - Feb-03, 2002

I'd like to start by asking a few questions from the reader? Why do employees who really want to feel enthusiastic and energetic about their work end up withholding effort, showing little initiative, arriving late, extending breaks, criticizing management, stealing and even taking part in violence, vandalism and sabotage? Why does the same person who outperforms everyone whilst he's working in America, in Pakistan becomes amongst the lethargic and unproductive members of the workplace. We rave about Pakistanis working abroad in high positions and making a name for this country. Yet, we ourselves can never manage to get that kind of productivity out of our human resource here. The question is why?

Throughout my experience with different organizations both locally and multinational companies, I've come across more or less the same problems being faced everywhere. The problem which I'd call 'demotivation'. This term is nothing new. Researches have been done on it for years now. We had the "Hawthorne Studies", the Behavioral schools of thought, McGregor 's theory X and Theory Y, Studies on motivation. We've had Henry Ford, and hundreds of other people over the years. Yet, still inspite of all this research, companies still face the problem of how to motivate their employees for maximum productivity.

One way to do it is to decrease the demotivators in the workplace that Pakistani companies face.

Demotivators defined
According to Dean R. Spitzer:

Demotivators are those nagging, daily occurrences that frustrate employees and cause them to reduce, consciously or unconsciously, the amount of productive energy they use in their jobs. Demotivators are counterproductive practices that have crept into an organization and become part of its normal operations more as a result of neglect than design.

Demotivators exist because they are allowed to and they remain because little has been done about them.

Too many managers in Pakistan are isolated from the daily frustrations of their workforce and simply do not appreciate the seriousness of the demotivation problem. They underestimate the importance of what they consider to be "minor irritations" and fail to realize that a demotivating behaviour tends to affect people far out of proportion to its actual size. In time, demotivators can even harm employees' psychological health.

The following are some of the most potent demotivators common to most organizations in Pakistan.


This is the most common of all demotivations in the Pakistani workplace. It involves competition for power, for influence, resources, favours and of course promotions. This is the employee who attends all his bosses' parties, culling favours and political weight. This is the employee who knows all the right stuff to say. Doesn't matter if that employee is good or not. It's they who get ahead. Politics usually operates according to unwritten rules of success that send subtle, ambiguous and anxiety-producing messages to employees about politically "correct" behaviours such as whom to fear, whom to appease, whom to avoid and whom to blame. A few employees may pride themselves on their political savvy. But organizational politics leaves most people feeling helpless and demoralized. This is why we don't have "Champions" in our workplace. People are just too scared to go against their own bosses, even when they know that the bosses are wrong and they have feasible and sometimes brilliant ideas to improve productivity. This is why there is no innovation and status quo remains for years, producing inefficient and ineffective management.

Politics thrives on subjectivity and secretiveness. Defeating it therefore demands that decision-making be based on objective and well-documented criteria. Quite impossible in the Pakistani workplace, but it is a good common sense approach. When unwritten rules for granting rewards and resources are eliminated, all employees will feel they have an equal chance to win. Frank discussion of past instances of politics, coupled with a commitment to avoid these practices in future, will send a powerful message throughout the company that dysfunctional politics in the workplace will no longer be rewarded and this would let real managers come forward and lead their companies towards higher profitability and growth.

Confusing messages

"We have to have more quality". "Product should have more built in obsolescence". "Reduce costs in the workplace". "Increase customer satisfaction". "Increase advertising". Did you recognize your company in these messages? Without realizing it, management often sends a confusing array of messages to employees. I'd like to give an example of a CEO who wanted his managers to work as a team, more. On the other hand the reward for the best manager was a paid-trip to Hawaii. He had a chart on his notice board signifying where each of his managers currently stood for winning that trip. As expected none of his managers would work as a team and were quite competitive. The CEO never actually understood the reason why?

The problem with confusing messages is that after a while, workers realize that when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. They can waste large amounts of energy working on the wrong tasks, accomplishing the wrong results, and becoming extremely frustrated in the process.

One way out of this dilemma is that companies should regularly review all documentation — from goals to publications, salary reviews, etc — for consistency. Oh! And it doesn't hurt to ask employees about their understanding of the organization's goals and priorities. When any confusion emerges, the firm should pinpoint the problem and correct it, so that what is communicated is more closely aligned with what is really wanted.

Make meetings more productive

If you're the average manager, you probably would have to attend quite a few meetings every month. How many times have you thought that you could have done something else more productive than attend the meeting. Meetings are vital to corporate success. I'm not against them. They provide a controlling factor in achieving the organization goals, but nothing saps the spirit like watching, power-less, as nothing is resolved, nothing is decided, and of course if it's just another part of the status quo. A big problem in the Pakistani companies especially if the managers are just supposed to sit there like puppets while the CEO or Seth tells them exactly what he wants, and doesn't want any feedback or opinion.

The following guidelines should help to ensure that employees look forward to meetings, rather than dread them:

•Ensure that the meeting is essential and that Only The Right People are invited to attend;
•Prepare a results-oriented agenda, focusing on a few key items, and distribute it to all participants before the meeting. People should know what they are supposed to do, rather than find out at the meeting.
•Expect participants to prepare for the meeting. In the Pakistani workplace, people are seldom if ever prepared beforehand, and then half-baked ideas, opinions, and prejudices take the place of real concrete decision-making. This problem is especially malignant in our government agencies.
•Use formats that encourage everyone to take part;
•Make sure that the meeting ends on time, that its effectiveness is evaluated and that action points are promptly followed up.


Many Pakistani organizations say one thing but do another. For example, they may say that they encourage feedback, but then not act on it. Many claim to trust their employees, but make them ask permission before they do anything at all, even before going for prayers, or they say they take people on merit and then hire people with contacts, influence, or source. Employees then feel angry, frustrated and betrayed.

One way out of it is that firms should closely monitor the consistency between their words and deeds. The company should be serious about what it says in its mission statement, company values and if it has one, an employee handbook. Organizations should avoid using exaggerated claims, arrogant exhortations and hyperbole that invites hypocrisy.

Constant change

Change can be highly motivating when it is results-oriented, well planned and well communicated. But constant change is disruptive. It leaves employees feeling like pawns, forced to go in whatever direction management decides is right at the moment. Other companies change excessively because of lack of direction or poor planning. Companies in Pakistan change with every new management that comes into place. Every new CEO has their own agenda and their own way of how the system should function and the employees have to change with every new CEO. There is no proper long-term vision for the company.

Today's employees not only want to know what is happening, but also want to know why. When change is essential, the reasons should be clearly and promptly communicated to employees. Firms should respond openly and honestly to employees' concerns by answering such questions as:

"Why is this change needed?" and "How is it going to affect us?" and of course employee participation at every level can bring about this transition more smoothly.

Withholding information

It is very few managers in Pakistan who actually let their employees get the information they need or appreciate the significance of it. Even if marketing people want the latest cashflows, they are accused of prying into company secrets. The information that people need to work with is never properly furnished to them. This leads to demotivation. But information is not just restricted to decision making. What people do not know makes them nervous and is typically perceived as a threat. A small rumour of a person being laid off e.g. can trigger widespread panic across the company. Who can work in such an atmosphere.

There is rarely any conspiracy to withhold information. Good organizations share virtually all corporate information, including detailed financial-performance data, with employees. Communication can take the form of, for example, frequent senior management visits to employees' work areas, monthly or quarterly state-of-the-company reports and even e-mail discussions.

Low-quality standards

The quickest way to kill the human spirit is to ask someone to do mediocre work. Many Pakistani organizations make decisions and design systems that rob employees of their right to pride in workmanship. Time and cost constraints, driven by short-term production goals, are major reasons for quality compromises and let us not forget the seth mentality that exists here. It is this mentality that most of all kills the motivation of the work place. One which assumes that the company is doing the person a big favour by hiring them and therefore can treat them any way it chose to and that the pay is enough as a motivation. Thus, we have those suffering workers in factories, demotivated managers in the workplace, and thus high turnover rates and lowered quality.

Employees should be involved in goal setting and process improvement. When a quality problem does occur, firms should take a "no-fault" approach and ask: "What is wrong with our systems that caused employees to do substandard work?" The company should then empower a team to solve the problem. But nothing will send a more immediate and dramatic message about management's commitment to quality than refusing to produce poor-quality goods.

So what can you do about it?

These are all common sense approaches to solving the management problems in companies here. The problem is that it is always the senior management that sets the culture of any organization and very few really want changes. But it is assured that once they would start to focus their attention on some of these demotivating factors, the factors would no longer exist. But remember, it is unrealistic to try to address all demotivators at once. They should be attacked one at a time. Employees should help to identify the highest-priority ones through surveys or focus groups. When rewards for a behaviour are removed, the behaviour will generally be extinguished. So this mean if you want to really promote on merit, then don't promote the guy who knows how to "Politically maneuver", rather promote the person who deserves it. Nobody expects demotivators to be eliminated completely or overnight. Some have been around for a long time and are too deeply entrenched. But when management states unambiguously that particular demotivating conditions are no longer acceptable and sets an appropriate example to that effect — the rest of the company will usually get the message, and follow the lead. Most of all employee involvement is vital. A broad-based team, representing all major areas and levels of the company, can play a key role in coordinating the effort.