Date posted: 01/12/2016 2 min read

Motivating underachievers in the workplace

Office life — tips and techniques to improve employee engagement

In brief

  • Look at the relationship between underachieving employees and their managers
  • Communicate your business strategy and goals to employees to create a greater sense of purpose
  • Performance management is a two-way process - employees want to know that their opinions are heard

How do I motivate underachievers?

Every leader faces the challenge of how to motivate and engage underachieving employees at least once in their career, often several times over.

Various studies have been conducted on the impact of unmotivated employees, with the general consensus being that they are more likely to call in sick, resign and be less productive. They tend to have little positive impact on customer relations and are less willing to solve problems, be innovate or be creative compared to their motivated colleagues.

Clearly then you’ll want to take steps to motivate your underachievers. Hays has released a white paper on staff engagement which suggests a number of practical strategies to engage and motivate employees.

It costs nothing to recognise achievements and letting your staff know that their hard work and successes are valued has a huge impact on engagement, loyalty and morale.

One of these is to communicate your business strategy to employees along with their role in achieving organisational goals. This creates a greater sense of purpose for employees, who then understand what they are working towards. They feel they are making a difference and are given ownership in the organisation’s success because they know their role in achieving the desired outcome.

Hays suggests looking at the relationship between employees and their managers, since in motivational and employee engagement terms this has a huge impact.

An effective induction and onboarding process is important too. It’s easy to forget that this can be a long but important process in getting new employees on board with your culture, values and strategy, and the attitudes and behaviours aligned with them.

Performance management is important too because people need to know how they’re performing, where they’re going and how they can improve. It’s also a two-way process since employees want to know that their opinions are heard. So make sure employees feel comfortable talking about their progress with you, and listen to their feedback before agreeing new objectives and priorities.

Recognition is another important component of motivation and engagement. It costs nothing to recognise achievements and letting your staff know that their hard work and successes are valued has a huge impact on engagement, loyalty and morale.

Diversity of thought is an interesting topic gaining a lot of attention in the HR community at the moment. In terms of motivation, a workplace that operates with diversity of thought, where employees embrace different ways of thinking, ensures all employees have a voice and know their opinions are valued.

Learning and development is important too, but it will only help keep employees motivated if the right training and development is offered. So talk openly with each employee about their career and developmental goals.

Finally, flexible work practices play a part. While they will not improve motivation on their own, they are an attractive incentive that can certainly help keep it high.

For more on how to engage your workforce, see the Hays white paper, Staff Engagement: The Next Big Thing, at

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of Acuity magazine.