Motivating those who don’t want to be motivated

Bored female office worker sitting at desk

How do you motivate staff who don’t want to be motivated?

In this article, I’m not focusing on staff members who are going through the motions, i.e. ‘quiet quitting’ because they’re jaded or unhappy with their job/employer and they’re actively looking for alternative employment.

I’m talking about another section of the UK workforce: people who are quite happy in their jobs, adequately enjoy their work, and are relatively loyal to their company. These particular people aren’t motivated to push forward in their careers and don’t show any particular interest, innovation, or initiative—they’re people who could take or leave the job they have.

These people no longer prioritise their work because the last few years have shown them that doing so doesn’t ‘pay’. It’s become abundantly clear to them that their life outside of work is what’s most important. There may even be people within this group who believe that AI is galloping forward so fast that there will soon be few frontline jobs to talk about—so why bother now?

These employees do their job well. They’re not combative, and they mostly enjoy what they do. They’re perfectly pleasant to customers, and they meet their targets.

They just don’t want to push for more. They don’t strive to exceed expectations, feed back their ideas, or move up the ladder. They engage as little as they can get away with without actually failing in their role.

Their motivation to do their job does not lie within the four walls of their employer’s workplace. Similarly, if they’re remote workers, they do what they’re paid to do, but it’s a means to an end as they focus and fully enjoy what a flexible, non-commuter role brings to their overall lives.

We all know that a cohesive team and employees who innovate are more productive and significantly impact a company’s bottom line, and you will no doubt have some of these people on your team. But how do you get them to work and engage with those they may believe ‘aren’t pulling their weight’? How do you prevent dissension in the ranks?

Ultimately, how can you lead and inspire individuals who don’t want to be inspired, and who are quite happy, thank you?

Working because they have to, not because they want to

Motivating employees is a critical aspect of effective leadership. While some individuals are naturally driven by ambition and the desire to excel, there are others who prioritise work-life balance and personal fulfilment above professional progression.

Recent evidence in the United Kingdom suggests that a significant percentage of the workforce would choose not to work if money was no longer a factor.

The pandemic prompted individuals worldwide to reassess their priorities, including their work-life balance. In the UK, this re-evaluation has been particularly pronounced. According to a global study by Randstad, 60% of UK workers said they would not work at all if money were no longer a concern. This figure surpasses the international average of 47%, and it’s also higher than any other comparable workforce, indicating that UK workers exhibit lower levels of engagement and motivation compared to their global counterparts.

To effectively motivate staff and teams who prioritise personal fulfilment over professional progression, leaders must gain a deeper understanding of their team members’ individual motivators. Some key factors to consider include:

Autonomy and flexibility

Many employees value autonomy and the freedom to manage their work schedules to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Providing flexible work arrangements and (crucially) empowering individuals to make decisions can enhance their motivation and possibly see them once again take on more responsibility.

Meaningful work

Employees who find their work purposeful and aligned with their personal values are more likely to be engaged. Recognise and communicate the significance of their contributions, connecting their roles to the organisation’s broader goals for greater buy-in.

Female worker developing her skills as part of a continuous development plan

Continuous development

Although personal ambition may be lacking, promoting learning and growth opportunities within the workplace can still be impactful. To stimulate motivation, offer training programs, mentorship, and avenues for skill development. Many people who have shifted their priorities after the pandemic believe their growth lies in their activities and opportunities outside of work. Reignite the feeling that growing professionally is still important; most skills are transferable and could benefit all aspects of their lives.

Recognition and rewards

While monetary incentives may not be a team member’s primary motivator, acknowledging and rewarding employees for their efforts and achievements is essential. Non-monetary rewards such as public appreciation, career advancement opportunities, or additional responsibilities can be effective in recognising and retaining talent.

Open communication channels

Foster an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and aspirations. Regularly engage in one-on-one conversations to understand their individual goals, interests, and passions outside of work. Provide guidance if necessary. Show interest in them as an individual.

Provide clear purpose and direction

Clearly articulate the organisation’s vision, goals, and expectations. Help team members connect their work to these broader objectives, emphasising how their contributions are integral to the team’s and the company’s overall success. With greater understanding may come a greater connection to their work.

Foster collaboration and teamwork amongst all your staff

Encourage collaboration and cross-functional teamwork to create a sense of camaraderie among team members. Facilitate open dialogue, share best practices, and foster a supportive culture where everyone feels valued and included.

Manager taking time to talk to and motivate his team membersLead by example

Set a positive example and demonstrate desired behaviours and work ethic. Display passion, dedication, and a commitment to personal and professional growth, inspiring your team members to follow suit.

What about those planning a permanent escape?

The above tips may help working-age team members realise that being passionate about their job and being a contributing, engaged employee can still be achievable and desirable alongside a healthy work-life balance.

Time isn’t the main factor for them.

Let’s now consider the over-50s. Plenty of people are downsizing and reassessing their lives and expenditures to lead simpler existences, which could allow them to stop working much earlier than the national retirement age.

Recruitment is difficult enough; if a good portion of older, more experienced employees become prematurely economically inactive, the situation will worsen. There needs to be a huge shift in our attitude to work, which means moving away from a capitalism model.

It’s not difficult to value your frontline more and pay them well to make your company’s remuneration much more equal. AI could actually help employees fall back in love with working; technology can now do a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ in many jobs, which ultimately makes these roles physically easier. We’re not having to slave down mines like past generations. Our work-life balance is infinitely better today.

Making work pay and making it more enjoyable are key elements in keeping people from exiting the workforce years before they need to (I’m not just talking about people with lots of wealth; I’m talking about the average worker here).

Gary Cookson, director at Epic HR, says employers need to ‘present themselves as more advantageous’ than the alternative of not working full stop. He adds, ‘When you look at your brand that way, you start to consider other aspects about what work can give to people that not working doesn’t. A good question for employers to answer is: What is better about working for us than staying at home and not working?’

Lisa Seagroatt, founder of HR Fit For Purpose, agrees. She says, ‘The workplace should be enjoyed, not endured.’

(I think this quote should be tattooed on the foreheads of people in charge!)

Lisa adds, ‘Employers need to recognise and engage with their employees, making them feel valued and part of a workplace family. Improving engagement and communication with people will help with culture.’

If you’re an ambitious jet-setter of a leader, it may feel alien to not want to work or to not get any pleasure from work. However, as someone tasked with motivating and inspiring your team, you may be in charge of people who genuinely feel this way.

See our YouTube Channel for our webinars showing a range of ways the Jigsaw Discovery Tool can help your company.


My advice is to start with understanding. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what’s at fault, and understanding what makes different people tick is an incredible gift in any circumstance. This is where the Jigsaw Discovery Tool comes in. Call 01924 898930 for more information.

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