4 Employee Motivation Ideas That Can Backfire

by Kylee Stone Sep 7,2015

The People Strategy Leaders Podcast

with Srikant Chellappa, CEO

Want to motivate your employees? That’s fantastic. You have some employee motivation ideas you want to utilize? Hold on a bit.

Employee motivation ideas can be an amazing way to increase employee engagement, but sometimes, even the best-laid plans can blow up spectacularly in your face.

Here are some ideas that though well-meaning, might not go over well with your employees. Of course, we cannot always gauge the success of an idea before it is implemented.  It always bodes well for you to implement an idea, carefully monitor it, and then further it or scrap it based on the response it receives.

Unlimited Vacation Time

Your employees are a hard-working bunch who also go above and beyond the call of duty. It pleases you and you want to give them something in return. You go ahead and decide to institute a new rule that you think your employees will like – compulsory vacation.

To your utter surprise, it does not go over well with your employees. Here is the deal. When you institute an unlimited vacation plan and allow employees to decide how many days to take off, your employees are not going to take enough holidays. They are going to be worried that if they take too many days off, someone or the other is going to think they are not putting in enough work. They might think it is your way of weeding out people who are taking days off and therefore ‘shirking’. Or they might even think that they have to come to work, even when they have genuine reasons not to because their peers might view them differently.

Here is what happened to one company when they decided to institute an unlimited vacation policy. Spoiler Alert: It did not pan according to what the founder had in mind.

Social Skill-Based Appraisals

The world is made up of people who are introverts, extroverts, ambiverts and that is putting it extremely broadly. Or to be more colloquial about it, it takes all sorts to make the world. Even if you substituted the word ‘world’ with ‘company’, the statement holds true.

Some of your employees might have really good social skills in that they can converse with everybody, are articulate, and are well-liked. But maybe you have other employees who are reserved, shy, or anxiety prone and don’t do well socially. The moment you decide to rate your employees socially and appraise them based on that, you are essentially sounding a death knell. Appraisals based on social skills are a very one-sided affair that doesn’t adequately measure an employee’s performance. Moreover, the whole concept is biased because having good social skills does not mean you do good work and vice-versa. The trick as with most things is to find the right balance.

Lavish Praise

There are moments that deserve lavish praise. For instance, your employees just successfully launched a product that has been in the making for one year and the product has been well-received by the market and customers. This is an occasion that deserves fulsome and excessive praise.

On the other hand, your senior manager and his team managed to placate an influential client and retain and important account. This action also deserves praise. But it does not deserve the same kind of praise that the first occasion does. When you needlessly lavish praise, all praise that you give is going to sound hollow. Give praise that merits the occasion. And of course, don’t under-praise. Find the right balance.

Creative Freedom

There is such a thing as too much freedom. It’s good that you give your employees the freedom to go through with ideas or plans. However, when you give them too much freedom, your employees can be overwhelmed by all the freedom they are given. They need to be able to check back with you and you should be invested enough to check in with them regularly to see how they are progressing. Too much of a good thing can only end badly. Every employee cannot keep working without someone to lead the way.

Which employee motivation ideas do you think can backfire? Or alternatively, which ideas have you seen backfire? Share your opinions with us!


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Kylee Stone

Kylee Stone supports the professional services team as a CX intern and psychology SME. She leverages her innate creativity with extensive background in psychology to support client experience and organizational functions. Kylee is completing her master’s degree in Industrial-Organizational psychology at the University of Missouri Science and Technology emphasizing in Applied workplace psychology and Statistical Methods.

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