How to motivate despondent employees

Alice Henebury
April 12, 2022
How to motivate despondent employees

How to motivate despondent employees

Knowing how to improve employee morale and motivation will have a tremendously positive impact on the business overall. After all, if half of your team are routinely only giving 30%, you can’t expect output to hit 100%. But getting to the point where staff are engaged, motivated and genuinely enjoying their jobs can be tough. Tough, but very worthwhile.

A UK government report revealed that companies experiencing low engagement scores had an operating income 33% lower than companies with high levels of engagement. One of the key reasons for this is that not only are disengaged workers in general working at a lower rate of productivity, but they also tend to take more sick leave. And more worryingly disengagement can spread throughout a workforce, with one disengaged worker having a negative impact on the rest of their team.

Other research into employee engagement from Gallup has found that:

  • If an employee feels motivated they will work 20% better than when they’re unmotivated.
  • Just 15% of worldwide workers say they feel engaged.
  • Businesses see a 64% fall in workplace accidents when higher levels of engagement are reported.
  • Engaged teams experience 81%lower levels of absenteeism compared to disengaged colleagues.
  • Companies with engaged teams, see an average of 18% more productivity through sales, and 23% in profitability.

Yet despite knowing this, motivating your unmotivated employees is a tricky balancing act. You have to understand why employees are disengaged, get under the skin of what motivates employees and then implement a plan.

Many people fall into the trap of assuming more money is the key to improving morale and motivation. But, here’s why money doesn’t motivate employees. Multiple studies and surveys have failed to link the quality of work in the long term and engagement with financial rewards. So, while being paid a decent wage will keep people in a role, it doesn’t necessarily encourage them to do their very best within that role – and engagement isn’t about retaining staff but about bringing out the best in them and motivating them to perform to their best ability.  

Your first step is to understand what motivates employees – and it’s likely that you won’t reach a one-size-fits-all conclusion on this. Some people are motivated by power, others by enjoying their work. While some employees are encouraged by a strong team or having the opportunity to give back to their community.

For this reason, it’s sensible to create personalised career paths and engagement mechanisms for each employee.

What motivates employees

Improving engagement means knowing what buttons to push for each member of staff. Find out what motivates them and craft personalised mechanisms to keep engagement levels consistently high, as opposed to one-off pay rises or bonuses.


Offer them the opportunity to gain some authority by shadowing someone in the role they’d like to move up to or participating in internal projects in their field of interest. This can be done alongside their current role but with the expectation that career progression will be available down the line.


Rather than offering a pay rise, motivate staff by a series of goals. If certain targets are met they will receive a financial bonus. This helps to ensure that the motivation remains long after the paycheque is signed.

Working relationships:

Plan social get-togethers create opportunities for teams to bond, encourage collaboration, create an open plan working environment and break out areas. Encourage disengaged workers to buddy up with colleagues to create a more collaborative environment.

A challenge:

Target those employees who will get a kick out of stepping up to a challenge, by inspiring them to solve a problem, develop a new idea, or suggest new ways of working. Involving employees can also help them feel more invested in a company that tends to bring out the best in people.

Doing somethingmeaningful:

This can be a tough one if a worker yearns to make a difference but the corporate job doesn’t allow much opportunity. Instead, offer targets, which if met, allow a worker to take a day’s paid leave to do some community work through a charity.

How do promotions motivate employees?

One of the tools at your disposal for motivating despondent employees is promotion. There are few employees who don’t strive to move upwards in their careers and take on more authority or responsibility. Promotions can appeal on many levels which makes them a good all-round solution to motivate staff –


A promotion usually means you can also motivate staff through financial rewards. It doesn’t just have to be about what they take home at the end of every month – enhanced benefits, company cars and bonuses can all help motivate staff to work harder.

Job experience:

Gaining a promotion may mean workers feel more secure in their roles which can help them feel more connected and part of a team. It may also move them to a more managerial role which can appeal to many people, or help them switch to a new team that is more aligned to their own career goals.


By nature, humans tend to be ambitious. Whether it’s the ambition to move through the ranks of a firm, o personal ambition to buy a second home, which a financial promotion can support, promotions appeal to our ambitious nature.

Of course, the final word is that the promotion must be warranted. There’s little point in promoting disengaged staff in the hope it will motivate them if the promotion isn’t truly deserved. Staff will take from that they don’t need to put the effort in and they’ll still be rewarded.

How to motivate an overwhelmed employee

Of course, there will be times when you are faced with a member of staff who is so overwhelmed in their role, that motivation seems an impossible task. In cases such as this though the benefits of successful staff motivation can be huge.

It’s vital to get to the bottom of their demotivation – is it the workload? A colleague? A particular project? With this information, you can take steps to recover the employee and bring them back.

Training can often be a key factor – increasing their knowledge and making them feel more confident in their role and better able to cope with its demands. It’s also vital that they understand that they are valued as a team member so provide plenty of opportunity for collaboration and support. And remember to praise and recognise hard work, great outcomes and a job well done.

If you’re able to provide your overwhelmed employee with a degree of autonomy – for example in their working hours, their environment or how they approach a task – it can help them find a more comfortable working pattern. Finally providing them with a mentor who they can turn to for support could help them feel less overwhelmed and boost productivity.


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