How can I help support a team member who is struggling with their motivation, without coming across as nagging?
I have often found that people have a habit of partially answering their own questions in the way that they ask them.
“I’ve noticed that you seem to be struggling for motivation recently (give examples) and I really want to help if I can but I don’t want you to think that I’m nagging because what I actually want to do is support you.”
How about that?
Showing some vulnerability is always the way to deeper connection and so when you fear that someone will see your attempts to help them as a criticism of some sort opening yourself up and being honest about what you’re trying to do is almost always disarming and helpful.
Do be aware though that there can be a lot of different reasons for low motivation and that not all of them will be related to work. Consider too that what you perceive as low motivation might not be recognised as such by your team member.
In view of that it’s worth acknowledging when you have the conversation that what you’re seeing may not be what is actually happening. Remain open-minded and you’re more likely to get a positive response.
If your team member reveals that there is something unrelated to work affecting them be careful not to be intrusive. You can still ask if there is anything you can do to support but avoid asking for details. If relevant you might need to signpost them towards more appropriate help.
Motivation doesn’t spur us into action; it follows action. So explore what’s stopping action? Barriers include lack of desire (no interest in the process or outcome ), lack of knowledge (no idea where to start) or lack of confidence (worried how it will go, fear of failure). Chat with your team member to find out what barriers they are facing , then build a plan to overcome them.
For example, lack of desire. This team member may have zero interest in the project they are working on. How can you get them to buy-in to the process or the outcome? What drives them (values, rewards, connection)? Could they do this with someone else? Could they get some extrinsic recognition for it? Maybe they aren’t the right person for this role as they are so disinterested in it so it needs delegating elsewhere and they do something else.
If it's a lack of knowledge, can you support them to break the project down into smaller chunks. In each chuck, they can identify what they need to help them complete it (information, training, other resources). They may be experiencing ‘blank page syndrome’ where starting is the hard part - could you do this together or could you get them started for them to take over, or break down the start to something less overwhelming?
If it's a lack of confidence then what support do they need? Again this could be skills training or mentoring, or just a diagram of the process. Is the culture psychologically safe - i.e. is it OK to muck up or is there a fear of repercussions? Is this project important, so if it does go wrong, will there be huge consequences to the employee?
If you find yourself nagging, you’re likely saying something ineffective; this is a waste of your energy as there is a roadblock in the way that isn’t being cleared. Take time to explore what the barrier is with this team member and then get them to plan how to overcome it. Once they have an understanding of what’s needed and how to get there, they can get going…and motivation will follow action!
Motivation at work may slip for a number of reasons. The person may be struggling with a personal or work issue, or both. Below are tips on how to approach this issue with empathy and understanding:
Choose the right time for a private one-to-one conversation. If you have a regular catch-up with the team member it makes sense to do it, then.
Explain that you want to share feedback to help them at work. Assert what you would like to see in terms of their performance and the importance of it. This may be that all team members meet certain weekly targets for example.
Share what you have observed about the team member. You might say something like: ‘I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself lately and your motivation seems to have dipped. Your normal productivity is down by 10%. Is there anything currently affecting your work productivity that I can help with?’ Be specific about what you have noticed as the team member may have a different perception of things and needs to understand exactly where you are coming from.
Allow the team member space to share their own thoughts and feelings. You may need to help the team member to identify what has slowed them down.
Help the team member to problem-solve any issues. For example, if an illness in the family is affecting performance you may agree temporarily that the team member works to different targets. If the team member is facing emotional or mental health difficulties, you cannot help them with signposting them to appropriate support. This might be HR or accessing Spill.
Agree a plan for moving forwards and summarise this with the team member in a way that is clear. You may agree to check-in with the team member at set times to check how things are going.
I hope this helps.