Employee motivation is essential for a productive and successful workplace, and the best managers strive to establish an environment that inspires and engages all their workers.

That may sound simple enough, but professionals feel disengaged at their jobs more than a quarter (26 percent) of the time, on average, according to Accountemps research. That can lead to low morale, lost productivity and employee turnover.

Sometimes it's the supervisors who sap their staff's enthusiasm without realizing what they’re doing. If you're worried about employee motivation and you're in a position to improve it, read on for eight mistakes you may be making as a manager — along with tips for avoiding these habits:

1. You’re not supportive

A supportive manager plays a huge role in job satisfaction, so it’s important to take a genuine interest in your employees’ career and professional development. You can offer training or mentoring in the workplace. It’s also crucial to support employees’ work-life balance; that means being as flexible as possible when personal and family issues arise.

In the survey, 19 percent of the respondents said their engagement at work would increase if they had a better boss, and 22 percent said more team building/work outings would help.

2. You don’t pay enough

Paying employees what they’re worth — and at market rates — is a key element of motivation, so do what you can to offer competitive compensation. You can find wage ranges with the Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals.

3. You don't show appreciation

Salaries aren't the only type of reward to consider, of course. You should thank your staff members, individually or as a group, when they perform exceptionally well or meet a milestone. You can organize parties or events to celebrate a team success. Or offer amenities, like one of the ones mentioned in the survey.

What was the most common response to what would make workers better engaged? Better perks! Nap room, anyone?

4. You don’t communicate

It’s important that your employees know they can talk to you when they have a problem or a question, but you can also motivate them by regularly reaching out to them. That means making sure your team understands what you expect of them, explaining how their roles fit into overall company priorities, and asking them about their own goal setting and priorities.

5. You micromanage employees

Few things kill motivation like micromanagement. If you’re constantly hovering over employees and second-guessing their choices, they’re not going to feel like they can make any decisions on their own. That’s why, once your employees know your expectations and have the right training, it’s best to get out of the way and let them do their jobs. Do what you can to structure projects so that employees have more autonomy and involvement in important decisions from beginning to end.

A third (31 percent) of the workers polled said they'd prefer less bureaucratic red tape at work.

6. You allow negative attitudes to dominate

Respondents to the survey ranked friendly coworkers second only to supportive managers as contributors to satisfaction on the job. If you have negative employees, put policies and supervision in place to manage the most annoying workplace behavior.

7. You don’t tolerate failure

When employees are allowed to manage their work without fear of retribution for making mistakes, they are typically more productive. Instead of instilling fear, encourage your team to learn from errors and misjudgments.

8. You waste people’s time

People hate feeling like they’re wasting time. For that reason, try to avoid sending unnecessary emails or holding needless meetings. If you must call a meeting, make sure you have an agenda and stick to a time schedule.

Do you know what your workers wish you'd do to be a better boss? Part of your job as a manager is to know your employees and learn what motivates them. Use our survey responses as a starting place.

Find out how to improve employee engagement by city, and, below, see data tables that show what makes professionals more engaged at work, with preferences by age.


Read the infographic text.


Percentage of time professionals are disengaged at work: 26%*

What would make you more engaged at work?**

TotalAge 18-34Age 35-54Age 55+
Better perks (e.g., free food, nap rooms, on-site gym)37%47%38%24%
More challenging work31%38%29%26%
Less bureaucracy/red tape31%24%32%35%
Lighter workload22%27%23%16%
More team building/work outings22%34%21%11%
A better boss19%23%20%14%

Source: Accountemps survey of more than 2,800 workers in the United States

*The mean response

**Multiple responses permitted

© 2018 Accountemps. A Robert Half Company. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.