Demotivators exist because they are allowed to and
they remain because little has been done about them
By UMAIR MOHSIN
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.
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
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.
"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
•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
•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.
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
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
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.
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.