Employee performance is a huge contributor to the success of any business, but here’s something just as important: Knowing how to motivate unproductive employees. Lazy workers who drag their feet and produce low-quality work cause a major strain on a company’s time and resources. Unfortunately, there are too many of these lazy employees to ignore. A recent study conducted by Proudfoot Consulting found that 29% of workers are unproductive – a number that is far too large.

If you’ve identified unmotivated employees in your agency, it’s time to take action. Follow these 6 steps for how to motivate lazy employees to save money for your company and time for your managers.

Meet one-on-one

Scheduling a one-on-one meeting with your employee helps to alert them that the situation is one to be taken seriously. If possible, an in-person meeting is ideal, but if your team works remotely, a video call (with cameras on) is the next best thing. As a rule, individual performance should never be addressed in group settings and phone calls are too casual a method which also may result in misunderstandings.

Be straightforward 

Prior to the meeting, spend some time brainstorming your own ideas about how to manage unproductive employees. Then, decide what you’re going to say and prepare to stick to your guns. It may be tough for some, but resist the urge to sugarcoat your message; Instead, be as honest and direct as possible.

In your preparation, it's also beneficial to gather concrete examples and data that highlight the areas of concern. Evidence provides a clearer picture and avoids making the conversation feel overly subjective or personal. Remember, the goal is constructive feedback, not criticism. To aid in this, consider adopting the "feedback sandwich" approach: Start with a positive observation, followed by areas of improvement, and conclude with encouragement. This structure can make the critique more palatable. Additionally, anticipate potential counterarguments or defenses, and be prepared to address them calmly. It's essential to approach the conversation with empathy, and understanding that everyone has off days or struggles. However, fostering a culture of accountability is crucial for the organization's success and the individual's growth.

Don’t criticize

Here’s one fact of life to keep in mind when deciding how to deal with unproductive employees: Very few people respond well to criticism. To avoid a negative reaction, don’t frame the conversation in terms of what the employee is doing wrong. Instead, focus on the problems your company has been facing as of late that result directly from the employee’s poor performance and explain how the employee can be part of the solution.

For example, say an employee has been extremely unproductive while writing blog posts for a client. Rather than saying, “You’re wasting time while writing,” mention that your bill for said client has been much higher as of late and you’re worried about procuring the funds to pay it. Emphasize to the employee how helpful it would be if they could churn out each post in less than 40 minutes.

Encourage dialogue

After you’ve executed your strategy for how to motivate unmotivated employees, ask them how they feel about each specific suggestion. Ask if the employee believes they can help you in the ways you’ve suggested and, if not, why. If your employee is defensive, ask what they would do in your position and if they have alternative solutions to propose. Pose questions that allow them to express whether they feel empowered by your suggestions or if there are obstacles hindering their motivation. 

Open communication is key: if you notice resistance or defensiveness, pivot the conversation to empathy. Encourage them to brainstorm and offer alternative solutions or methods that might be more aligned with their perspectives and capabilities. This collaborative approach not only fosters trust but can also lead to innovative and effective solutions that benefit both the employee and the organization.

Make a decision

At the end of the meeting, you’ll inevitably be faced with a decision. You must decide whether to replace the employee, retain them on probationary status, or change their responsibilities. Give yourself time to mull over the information you’ve collected from your conversation with them, but be prompt in announcing your decision. You’ll save your employee unnecessary anxiety and yourself time and resources.

Upon reflection, one must also consider the wider implications of the decision on team dynamics and company culture. Replacing an employee can be disruptive and may affect morale, especially if the individual has strong relationships within the team. Opting for a probationary status sends a clear signal to the workforce about performance expectations, but can also be a motivator for improvement. Alternatively, changing their responsibilities might showcase your commitment to employee growth and flexibility, possibly boosting overall morale. Whatever choice you make, it's important to communicate the reasons behind your decision to the broader team. This transparency can enhance trust, foster understanding, and pave the way for smoother transitions, whether it involves onboarding a new face or adjusting to altered roles within the organization.

Acknowledge changes

Should you decide to keep your unmotivated employees on staff, make sure to continue to monitor their behavior. Hopefully, you’ll recognize improvements. If you do, it’s important to acknowledge them. Praise is a highly effective motivator and positive feedback is necessary to fuel the productivity you wish to see. If you want to continue to see productivity gains from your employee, seek out opportunities to show you appreciate the changes they have made.

Furthermore, continuing to have consistent and structured check-ins can be invaluable in this process. A supportive environment where employees feel heard can often be the key to unlocking their potential. Remember, it's not just about celebrating the big wins. Recognizing smaller milestones can be equally impactful, reinforcing positive behaviors and boosting self-confidence. A word of affirmation from colleagues can go a long way in cultivating a collaborative and motivating work atmosphere, reinforcing the belief that everyone plays a part in an individual's journey of improvement and success.

You can always count on employee management and all its facets to present unique challenges for any HR department. If your team could use some extra support, our bespoke HR services can make all the difference. Learn more here: https://www.finepointconsulting.com/services/human-resources-solutions

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