How to squash a motivated employee

imagesI’ve lost my mojo at work. I’ve known this for quite some time, but this morning it really hit me. I was standing in my closet with this really super fluffy, super large gray robe I bought last week on a whim while picking up some toiletries in Target. I was so warm and comfy. The weather is starting to change and getting dressed just seems to take more effort than ever this year. I was just staring at the clothes in my closet trying to decide what the most comfy thing would be to wear that would resemble anything even slightly professional. I didn’t want to get out of that robe. My beautiful clothes that I used to take such pride in just sat there staring back at me like little soldiers waiting for their turn. My clothes seemed so stifling now. They resemble everything I’m starting to detest. The commute. Discomfort. Work.

Work. As in a job work. I always loved work. I always loved getting up and getting dressed and going to work. Until now and present job excluded, I had a one job in 24 years I wasn’t crazy about. But I did like to work, even at that job. And I liked to work hard. Ever since my first job I always took serious pride in what I did. Whether it was scooping ice-cream, resolving a customer issue, painting a stanchion, or creating a managerial dashboard; I took pride! I wanted to make a difference. I wanted my customers (internal or external) to be surprised by getting more than what they expected. I wanted people to walk away with a smile on their face and even possibly even motivated to surprise and help others too. I loved chatting with people. I loved walking around and noticing things that could be done better and then just taking the initiative without being asked to do my best to make it better.

This is going to sound so cocky, but I was the most motivated person in real life that I knew until recently. It bothered me a little that others didn’t care so much, but it wasn’t such a big deal to me because I was getting enough enjoyment just doing my own thing and doing my best to such an extent, that what other people did or didn’t do truly didn’t matter to me that much. I am self-motivated and self-directed. When I finished high school and joined the military I wanted to get a college degree but couldn’t fit going to school in, especially after I had a new born. I bought some study guides and decided to CLEP credits since it was free to me as an active duty member. I earned all but 3 credits toward an associates degree that way. But why stop there? I took an online professional secretary’s course. Then I got my bachelor’s degree online. After that I took a few years off, taught myself to properly type, use a computer, and become skilled in the Microsoft Office Suite. When that became natural I went back to school and got an MBA. Not sitting on the couch and watching TV to read hundreds of business articles and write peer-reviewed researched papers takes a lot of drive. I didn’t think so at the time, but I don’t know if I’d have it in me anymore. That took some serious motivation. I always cared about the work I did too and I’ve spent the last 14+ years at the VA hospital doing as much as I could administration wise using the skills I learned on my own with my own money to make my organization as awesome as it possibly could be. Yes, there were frustrating times I complained and got annoyed, but it never really stopped me more than a day or two at the very most from dusting myself off and picking right back up where I left off.

I didn’t want to rule the world either. I was never interested in senior leadership or becoming a Director, Associate Director, Department manager or anything to the like. I just wanted to do the best job I could from whatever seat I was at. My family life and work-life balance was actually equally if not slightly more important to me. I didn’t want to have to travel, because I didn’t want to miss story time at night with the kids, or one of their plays, or the ability to make a home cooked meal at night. As they got older I worried about who they might have over and just preferred to be home in my house, and in my bed with my kids close by. Even though I did do extra work at home and check my emails, I never wanted to be in a position where it was a necessity. I liked that I didn’t have to and only did so when I was so excited about something it was difficult to stop working on it. I liked that it was my choice. I always put way more into my job than I got back. I worked far more hours than I was paid for.

I’ve spent the last 22 years working for the federal government. 4 years active duty, 4 years reserve, and 14 years as a public service employee. I have 22 years of outstanding performance reviews at the highest possible rating every single marking period. 2 years ago I took the chance of taking a job that I knew little about. I was getting a little bored in my previous job because I stopped growing and thought I would be able to learn some new skills and help my organization with the skills I already have. It was a promotion on paper but not with my salary. I did not choose money, I chose growth. It was a new position that did not exist before.

When I started the job I saw so much potential. There were so many directions to go in I knew I had to deliberately choose a path and branch out from there. I never had a supervisor or anyone as a matter of fact to even sit down with me to discuss direction, so I created direction for myself and my small staff of 3. I had an awesome motivated little group. I didn’t do anything on my own, I floated every idea by our senior leadership team and our hospital director. I got the green light on everything I suggested. And I broke up the work amongst my little group so we call could grow and learn and cover one another.

Well, after a little over a year I was starting to burn out both personally and professionally. Since I moved in with my husband and we blended our families almost 6 years ago, my personal life got more and more complicated and exhausting. Professionally I started to see the writing on the wall that although senior leadership verbally supported the work I floated by, they didn’t really have any idea what I meant, had no time or inclination to digest anything, and truly didn’t seem to care. So when push came to shove and we got push back from the hospital employees; they did not support me, my staff or the policies they signed off on that I’d put in place. I felt like stopped growing. I felt like I started managing non-sense and no one was willing to sit down with me who had any power to discuss the barriers I faced to moving anything forward that was worthwhile.

For the first time in my life I couldn’t stand driving to work. It started to actually feel nefarious to wake up from not enough sleep, get dressed in uncomfortable clothing, leave my house in a rush and go sit at a nice desk with a window only to be accomplishing very little if not anything at all. I am getting older. I have less energy and a crazier life with 4 teenagers and many things to deal with outside of work; both physically and emotionally. We could live with the lessened income and improve the quality of our home and our lives if I didn’t work full time. After 22 years I took the crazy chance of asking if I might be able to work part-time. I asked about this possibility on May 11th this year in an email to my acting supervisor with the hospital director copied. The immediate response the next day was absolutely, we would do anything to keep you here in your current job; you’ve been outstanding. I was flattered. I didn’t know what answer I expected, but I wasn’t too surprised that someone thought I was someone worth keeping around.

Well… days, weeks, months elapsed. I didn’t have a real supervisor because mine was promoted and the job was empty. Human Resources was going through personnel changes and no one was really in charge. I got the run around, many promises and supposed final answers with a question mark at the end. It was stressful. I have been anxious the entire summer and now well into fall about how this would turn out. In the meanwhile I started working only 3 days a week and kept my job duties up. As suspected I was able to handle my full time job on a part-time basis.

To make a very long story short, I still don’t have an answer. The only thing I know is that I’ve had several assurances made to me if I do this, that or the other thing we can work something specific out. Each time I’ve delivered on my end but someone at the end of the chain disapproves the request. I would have been willing to leave back in May or consider staying on full time if I was told honestly upfront that part-time wouldn’t be possible. I would have looked for other jobs. I’m now completely unmotivated and disenchanted. I have sparks of motivation that inspire me to take incredible pride in what I’ve started, but that motivation is almost always shot down immediately by another short changed agreement that will no longer be explored.

Not too long ago at work I was super energetic, super motivated, & super duper naïve. I saw many people that had been here a long time and couldn’t understand why they were so bitter or why they seemed to have given up. They would talk about how we’ve already been there, done that. They were over it, riding it out until their retirement. I was completely unable to digest how someone could get to that point. I read about motivating people in college, through articles I had to read for conferences and materials that were sent as part of professional groups and mail serves I belong to. I felt I knew how to motivate the people I worked with, but there were these others that wouldn’t budge. As part of many other things I’ve read I can’t help but think about what I’ve learned intelligently about disengaged employees and the cost to the workplace. So much of it has to do with a good leader. It sounds like an ethereal concept because it’s not exactly tangible, but it’s the key to running a good organization.

I studied business and management and had to take many, many classes about supervision, change management, organizational development and leadership. I’ve read about the traits of good leaders. It seems obvious to me about what kind of people should be in charge of what kinds of things. However that is not the case in my organization at least. I don’t know much about how the outside or corporate world runs, but it’s apparent that the right fit was not made if you look around for a New York second and see many managers and supervisors floundering because they’ve never been trained, didn’t really want the position, hate confronting people with anything negative or are just unorganized and lack administration skills. Or feel like they have no choice about anything because they have a lousy leader that will not let them made a single decision so they themselves are unmotivated and have given up.

My car, my clothes, my office with the personal mementos I’ve accumulated over the years from all the people I’ve worked with who touched my life…unknown none of it means anything if I’m not doing anything useful and I’m sitting in meetings and at my desk like an automaton ornament as a participant in creating the same disorganized chaos for years on end. Amongst a bunch of other people who either don’t care or are feeling equally if not more disgusted.

As with anything the higher and higher up you go in an organization, the more and more important it is to have the right fit in the right jobs. I’m not a good fit there. I need out for my mental health and sanity. I would like an answer about what direction I’m going in and what my schedule will be. I’ve not received an adequate explanation about why my very reasonable request was denied. I’m disgruntled. I’m stressed. I no longer like going to work. I’d rather stay home in my bathrobe and not pretend I’m making any kind of difference in the world.

How to squash a motivated employee?

  • Ask them to do as you say, not as you do.
  • Don’t consider their track record when considering a reasonable request.
  • Don’t talk to them about expectations.
  • Give them a super generic performance plan with goals they’ve accomplished several years ago.
  • Don’t support them in the things you approved them to move forward with, in fact throw up your hands in confusion and reverse past decisions.
  • Never follow-up on what you asked from them, and for the few who do go out and do what you asked; don’t be available or act like you care.

Take all you can from them. Give them nothing in return.


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7 thoughts on “How to squash a motivated employee

  1. Welcome to the real workplace in America. Where nothing happens & you have no motivation to get up, get dressed & go to work…
    To motivate myself I used to change jobs until again I would have no motivation & would change jobs again & again & again. Now I don’t need to worry about that any longer…


  2. I know what that feels like. You know what you need to do to preserve and be true to you. Hoping it gets better for you!


  3. You may not be leadership but you are management. Especially in the VA, making people “jump” is the only way to see progress since most of the plans set are for the future or reactionary. Your previous positions may have been more rewarding since the end result was more immediate. This one is more of a waiting game where the end is much more satisfying but less rewarding in the present. The decisions that you are planning will impact and improve patients and staff for years…or until the couple of people following you totally screw your vision.
    A lot of the problems that you see may be from the changes that are around you. As you have just got into your position 2 years ago, how many of your current co-workers you work with have worked in their position as long as you or twice as long, or not much longer? At this VA all that time? The culture, tradition, and comradery hasn’t formed. Many are coming in and already looking to leave, some taking time off because it isn’t a “good fit”.

    The problem isn’t just your department, I see it elsewhere. The problem may be the erosion of the traditional cultures that may have existed before our arrival into these positions. I can see the divides and know that all I have the power to change this is by helping out breaking the divides little by little. I have very little influence over departmental changes and have no influence on the politics that play behind the scenes, but being the in between helps see the stories.
    Again, stay positive! Your work matters!


  4. I’m feeling the same way right now. I wake up in the morning and think “what’s the point?” It’s the same nonsense day in and day out, I’m beginning to feel like a robot


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