Create an environment that inspires motivation and engagement through empathy

Written by Mary Schaefer – President, Artemis Path, Inc.
You can make sure your people are using their natural strengths. You can focus on job fit and culture fit. Is that all there is to ensure motivated employees?

When I think of supporting employee motivation, my thoughts go a slightly different direction. What if you demonstrate that their contributions make a difference? You can do this through empathy. Yes, empathy.

If you want to cultivate motivation, don’t do this.

There are those times when employees are put in the position of dealing with disappointment or being denied an opportunity to contribute. Management calls a project to a halt. A budget cut sends employees’ current job assignments into a spin, perhaps impacting the trajectory of their careers. This gnaws at people. I don’t often see attention given to addressing the meaning employees assign to such changes. They end up feeling bad because of what it means to them. They are expected to roll with the punches. After all, “It’s just business.”

I was on a project once that “restarted” seven times. Near the end, the project leader told us to just hang out until he and the other leaders got things figured out. They told us it would take, “maybe a month.” Fortunately I was in a position to remove myself from the project in that period of time. The seeming self-absorption and the lack of concern for how that decision affected team members still puzzles me twenty years later. Just because it’s an old story doesn’t mean it doesn’t still happen.

Another way to sustain motivation: empathy.

Empathy requires putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Start by anticipating how a change or decision might impact your employees and their noble and very human desire to contribute.

Respect your employees’ intelligence and dignity. Change is likely more than “just a business decision” to them. Take the time and make the effort to engage with them. In this way, people can get on the other side of change more easily, and quickly restore their motivation and productivity.

I’m not suggesting you apologize, cry or decorate the room for a pity party. Show empathy by anticipating reactions, and move forward recognizing the potential difficulty of handling new information.

Leave people with hope, with belief in their own competence, and give them something to do, large or small. Give them something to do so they do not feel stuck, and are not left ruminating. Of course, give them something to do that is appropriate to the situation, and within their realm of influence. Then they can begin to feel competent, valued and motivated again.

What do you do when faced with a business decision that is not going to go over well?
How do you prevent employee motivation from derailing completely?


Mary Schaefer – President, Artemis Path, Inc.

As a coach, trainer, speaker and consultant, Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in helping managers and employees conquer their dread about difficult conversations, to go into them feeling equipped and confident. Personally and professionally, Mary’s mission is to create work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. Mary is a former HR manager, holds a Master’s degree in HR and is certified as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR). She is co-author of the book, “The Character-Based Leader” and spoke at TEDx Wilmington (DE) 2014 on the topic of “Putting the Human Back into Human Resources.” Mary also writes regularly at the Lead Change Group blog, Smartbrief for Leaders, InPower Women and her own site, ReImagineWork.com.

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