How To Engage Lethargic Employees?

motivationsThere are people who feel that lazy workers are much like a ‘cancer’ in the workplace; no amount of motivation will work for them, because they are basically lazy and lethargic people.

Take this example: Jane was an entrepreneur. She had just one employee, June, working for her.

Although Jane put in her best efforts every day for building up her business, she found to her dismay that June was not doing anything towards the betterment of the business.

In fact, June would come up with innovative excuses every day for not having completed whatever she had to complete the previous day: either her child was sick, or her mother had had a fall, or the bus was late.

Jane was quite tolerant of June’s laziness, but after a certain point, she started feeling resentful of the number of times she had to fill in for her.

Jane spoke to a senior consultant about June’s behaviour. The consultant assured Jane that she was not running a social service for women with children; she was running a business where deadlines had to be kept, quality had to be maintained, and paper work had to be filled in. His advice to Jane was this: fire this lazy woman and appoint someone else in her place, someone who would perform better.

Jane thereafter did some research on how she would be able to motivate lazy employees, and here’s what she found:

  • You can talk to the employee, and tell her that her behaviour is not acceptable, and that if she desired to keep on working in the company, she would have to give her best performance, otherwise, she could look for another job. For many people, the prospect of losing their job can be frightening enough to motivate them into becoming interested in working better.
  • If you find that your employee’s performance has indeed improved over the next few months, you must take the trouble of congratulating her, and perhaps offering a reward.
  • If you find that the performance has not improved, let him go, without guilt. You cannot change this person, obviously.
  • Try to offer your employee wide choices, because this will give him a feeling of empowerment, as well as foster a sense of belonging in him. These will prove to be excellent motivators.
  • Try to criticise the behaviour, and not the person. This works well for parents and kids, therefore, it will have to work in the employer-employee relationship as well.
  • Maintain a personal relationship with your employees, but do not let it go too far.

With these tips, I am sure you will be able to handle lethargic and lazy employees better.



  1. It is ok to be honest, up front and lay things on the line, but it seems to me that arbitrarily using scare tactics as a means manipulate someone to behave, or to “motivate” them to perform better is by negative re-enforcement and will eventually need to be repeated in order to sustain productivity. This kind of treatment of an employee will degrade the employee and encourage a lower self-esteem, self-worth and self-pity.

    The truth may in fact be that the employee should find another job. Most often people in such circumstances are not sure what it is they really want to do with their life. They haven’t found their purpose in life, or they have and are down because they feel they cannot pursue it due to financial or other reasons.

    I think it would be better to attempt to assist the employee find out what they truly want, or if they want to work there or not. Then work with them to find out if that is the place for them or not. This will not only motivate but will also instill genuine respect for the employer, regardless of the outcome.

  2. What about the underlying cause: if she’s not motivated, she hasn’t bought into the vision of the company – is it being communicated to her in a way that gets her excited about participating?

    Too many employers assume that buying an employee’s time will automatically get them loyalty, commitment and 100% opt-in to the mission, even when it’s never been explained, and the employer clearly demonstrates that the give & take will actually only be ‘take’ on their part.

    Granted, business is not the same as charity, and when someone believes they have a right to be paid for just warming a chair there is a problem to be addressed, but I believe wholeheartedly that most people are capable of being motivated to perform with the right leadership, and before you place all the blame on someone else, it’s important to look at what you could have done yourself to address (or even better, prevent) the issue first.


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