Demotivation at work: recognizing, understanding and acting


Demotivation at work is defined as a condition, whether temporary or permanent, which leads to apathy and a lack of willingness to carry out assigned missions and tasks, and which can have repercussions both on the health of the employees who experience it and on the company as a whole.


The consequences of demotivation in the workplace are not just for the individual employee, but for the company as a whole, especially if it becomes widespread.

It is therefore in the company’s interest to be able to identify signs of demotivation among its employees at an early stage, so as to put in place the necessary measures to remedy the situation.


This article gives you the keys to identifying the signs of demotivation at work, determining the causes in order to eliminate them, taking action to limit the consequences, and preventing demotivation in order to avoid it.

Signs and symptoms of demotivation

There are many signs of demotivation. Initially, these are weak signals, more of a behavioral nature, which can become more pronounced over time, affecting the quality of our work.


Behavioural signals include

  • Employee isolation: less investment in team life, less interaction with colleagues;
  • Uneven, changeable moods, even irritability and aggressiveness towards colleagues;
  • Increasing absenteeism: late arrivals, absences, earlier-than-usual departures, increased sick leave.


And demotivation can have repercussions on the employee’s work because of his or her lack of enthusiasm:

  • Increased errors, negligence, oversights;
  • Work handed in late, tasks aborted;
  • Reduced quality of work;
  • Decreased involvement: refusal to take on new assignments, lack of initiative;
  • Lower productivity;
  • Increased complaints and criticism of the organization.

This shows that demotivation is detrimental to the smooth running of a company, and can generate significant costs if left unchecked.

Causes of demotivation at work

The causes of demotivation at work are just as numerous as the signals.

They may be linked to the organization and/or the individual.

Organizational factors of demotivation at work

Work conditions

Working conditions have a direct impact on employees’ quality of life at work: the environment and workplace, telecommuting, flexible working hours, the tools provided… All these factors have a daily impact on employees. If the company doesn’t do all it can to improve working conditions, employees can become demotivated.

Labour relations

In business, as in our personal lives, the people we come into contact with have an influence on us, whether positive or negative. Difficult relationships with colleagues, teams or managers, an unpleasant atmosphere or internal conflicts can all have an impact on employee motivation.

Management and the relationship with the manager are key points in employee motivation. Indeed, the definition of objectives, communication and the manager’s availability have a direct impact on the employee’s work and therefore on his or her motivation at work. Authoritarian, over-directive or inaccessible management is a major source of dissatisfaction for employees.

The same applies more generally to internal communications. Internal communication builds trust. If internal communication is well done, employees feel they belong to the company, they feel valued. If, on the contrary, it’s not present enough, or is too vague, employees may feel distrustful of their organization, a lack of transparency and consequent frustration. The wrong kind of information opens the door to rumors and gossip, which are detrimental to any organization. Opinion Way survey on modern-day internal communication conducted from January 26 to 29, 2018 among 1,014 employees concludes as follows: “Optimizing your internal communications strategy around content relayed via relevant channels, and responding to employees’ needs for self-expression, is undeniably a key issue in fostering employee commitment at work and enabling organizational success and sustainability.“.

Individual factors in demotivation at work

The position and missions

De-motivation can be linked to the employee’s position and tasks within the company:

  • Tasks that are unrewarding, repetitive or uninteresting;
  • Mismatch between the job “sold” at recruitment and the reality on the ground;
  • Unsuitable workload: overload or underload, in both cases the employee can feel demotivated because this imbalance creates stress and dissatisfaction, leading to burn-out (overload) or bore-out (deep boredom);
  • Lack of autonomy: red tape, time-consuming processes, too much reporting or hierarchical control: employees feel restricted in their work or overly supervised, leading them to stop taking initiative or new responsibilities.


Remuneration is an important source of motivation. While it is not the only source of motivation, it is nevertheless the representation of the value the company places on the employee. A remuneration package that is too low or that does not evolve can lead to dissatisfaction and a drop in motivation. Remuneration is a source of recognition. An employee who doesn’t feel valued, and therefore remunerated, will be harder to motivate.

Lack of career prospects

The majority of employees feel the need to evolve, develop their skills and undergo training throughout their career. If an employee’s desire for horizontal or vertical development or mobility is not taken into account by the company, this can lead to frustration and demotivation.

A desire to change careers can also become a source of demotivation.

Aligning values

Sharing the values of the company where you work may seem secondary at first. However, it is essential to maintain motivation over the long term. Indeed, how can you get fully involved in your work if you don’t feel in tune with the company’s fundamentals? To stay motivated over the long term, employees need to feel useful and that their work is meaningful to them. The loss of meaning in work, also known as brown-out, is becoming more and more common, particularly among Generation Y and Z employees. For this reason, adherence to the corporate culture should be a point of validation right from recruitment interviews.

Consequences of demotivation at work

De-motivation at work has significant consequences, both individually and collectively, affecting performance, well-being, talent retention, corporate image and even finances.

A clear impact on individual and collective performance

First and foremost, a demotivated employee loses interest in his or her responsibilities, loses commitment to the company, and neglects his or her objectives. This apathy can contaminate the team, compromising group projects and creating tensions between colleagues, thus deteriorating the social climate and work atmosphere.

Effects on well-being and job satisfaction

Demotivation is often accompanied by a lack of meaning at work, stress and musculoskeletal disorders. In extreme cases, it can lead to burn-out, resulting in high absenteeism. De-motivation is a source of stress, anxiety and weariness, which can lead to sick leave due to anxiety or physical ailments such as back pain.

Impact on talent retention and corporate image

When it comes to talent retention, demotivation has a negative influence, increasing staff turnover. In the current era, employees are inclined to change jobs to seize new opportunities for growth and development. Unmotivated employees are more likely to look for better alternatives.

Digital communication enables employees to share their experiences, whether positive or negative. A disgruntled employee tends to vent his or her frustrations both internally and externally, damaging the company’s image. Negative comments can damage a company’s reputation as an employer, affecting recruitment. Potential candidates research companies before applying, and negative reviews can deter them from choosing a company with a poor reputation.

Significant economic impact

Finally, demotivation has considerable economic repercussions. According to a study by IBET 2023 (Indice de Bien-Être au Travail), disengagement represents an average annual cost of 10,070 euros per employee (down on previous years, but still significant). This disengagement translates into lower productivity, with employees feeling less involved in the company’s success. In the long term, this disaffection can have a negative impact on the entire company, leading to significant financial losses. In addition, there are indirect costs linked to the lower quality of work and the replacement of absent employees.

In short, demotivation in the workplace has serious consequences that affect performance, health, the company’s reputation and its finances. Human resources managers need to take proactive measures to prevent demotivation and its damaging effects.

Strategies for preventing and overcoming demotivation

As we’ve seen, employee demobilization can lead to a significant loss of productivity and job satisfaction, as well as repercussions on talent retention and corporate reputation. To counter these harmful effects, it’s crucial to implement effective strategies. We propose concrete measures to combat demotivation within your organization.

Assess the current situation and identify the causes of demotivation

Before implementing measures to combat demotivation, it’s essential to understand your company’s specific situation. What works in one organization may not work in another. So it’s a good idea to get an overview of your employees’ motivation at any given moment. Anonymous surveys are a valuable tool in this respect, allowing employees to express themselves freely and make suggestions. It also demonstrates your interest in their opinions.

To obtain relevant information, keep your questionnaire short and ask open-ended questions, such as :

  • What do you like about your current role?
  • What aren’t you happy with?
  • How do you perceive the organization of teamwork?
  • If you could change one thing about the work environment, what would it be?

In short, give your employees a voice.

Once you’ve gathered this information, you’ll be able to determine the most appropriate actions to combat demotivation and put a strategy in place.

Creating a motivating work environment

Working conditions have a significant impact on (de)motivation. Depending on the survey results and organizational possibilities, you can consider actions to improve the quality of life at work. This can include initiatives such as telecommuting, flexible working hours, company events, the creation of relaxation areas, the greening of spaces, or even a review of workstation ergonomics. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace must also be taken into account.

What’s more, teamwork plays a central role in employee motivation. Encourage relationships between your team members by organizing events and activities that promote cohesion. A simple lunch or a group game can help create bonds and strengthen team cohesion.

Employees also need to feel in tune with the company’s values. Any action that reinforces a sense of belonging is beneficial to employee motivation.

Boosting employees’ intrinsic motivation

Workplace fulfillment and motivation increasingly depend on skills development. Skills development is essential to keep employees motivated, as they are better equipped to cope with changes in their professions, and are therefore more likely to invest themselves in the company. By investing in training and professional development, you show that you have confidence in your employees and support their growth. In a world where skills are evolving rapidly (artificial intelligence, digitalization of professions), continuous development is a major asset in the fight against demotivation.

Recognition and appropriate rewards

Recognition is a key element of motivation. Encourage positive communication and recognition of successes, big or small. If an employee hasn’t achieved his or her objectives, adopt a coaching rather than a dominating stance: ask, for example, what could have helped him or her achieve the objective, or what he or she would need to improve results. Be constructive and aim for improvement, not reprimand.

Thus, regular interviews with employees are essential to assess their job satisfaction and to identify and quickly resolve potential problems that could lead to a loss of motivation. Managers therefore need to remain accessible and encourage human contact, at a time when telecommuting can sometimes distance people from each other.

These strategies will be beneficial if the employee’s demotivation is linked to the company. However, if the loss of motivation originates in the personal sphere, the company and its managers will unfortunately have little control over it.

The role of managers and HR in managing demotivation

De-motivation in the workplace can be a daunting challenge, but managers and HR professionals have the tools they need to deal with it effectively. Communication, autonomy, skills development and manager training are all essential elements in creating a motivating and productive work environment. By working together, these key players can help reduce demotivation and promote a fulfilling workplace for all.

Effective communication

As we said earlier, communication is the key to understanding the sources of employee demotivation. Managers need to establish an open dialogue with their teams, actively listen to them and take their concerns into account. An environment where employees feel free to express themselves is conducive to the proactive resolution of motivational issues. HR has a role to play in creating effective communication channels, such as anonymous surveys and regular one-to-one interviews, to gather information about employee concerns.

Encouraging autonomy and initiative

Micromanagement can be one of the main sources of demotivation. Managers need to give their employees a certain amount of autonomy in carrying out their tasks. This enables employees to feel responsible for their actions and to develop a sense of accomplishment. HR can support this approach by implementing policies and training that encourage initiative-taking and empowerment.

Developing skills and opportunities for advancement

Professional stagnation is a major demotivating factor. Managers and HR must work together to identify opportunities for professional development within the company. This can include ongoing training, the creation of individualized career plans and internal promotion. When employees see a promising future for their company, they are more inclined to stay motivated and committed.

The importance of training managers to manage motivation

Finally, managers need to be trained in how to manage their teams’ motivation. This training should cover skills such as recognizing signs of demotivation, conflict resolution, active listening and creating a supportive work environment. To achieve this, managers need to develop their soft-skills. Being supportive, actively listening and offering quality feedback can all be learned.

HR plays a crucial role in designing and implementing these training programs. Managers and HR are the relays for internal company policy, even in SMEs. HR policy must therefore include time for managers and employees to listen to each other, so that diagnoses can be made and measures taken if necessary.

In conclusion, detecting and managing demotivation in the workplace is of crucial importance for employee well-being and corporate productivity. Although the task can sometimes be complex, particularly in multi-site structures, it should not be neglected. The obvious players, such as managers, HR departments and elected members of the CSE, need to be made aware of this problem so that they can detect it and deal with it effectively.

However, the responsibility for preventing demotivation should not fall solely on these players. Employees themselves play a crucial role in detecting early signs of demotivation, whether it’s their own or that of their colleagues. Raising awareness of demotivation in the workplace must therefore be a concern shared by everyone in the company.

With this in mind, the organization of training courses dedicated to de-motivation in the workplace proves to be a wise investment, both from a financial and human point of view. By encouraging open communication and collective vigilance, companies can create an environment where de-motivation is detected early and successfully combated, thus promoting employee well-being and company sustainability.

Do you want to improve employee commitment?

Véronique B. HR Director at Boost'RH Groupe

“According to our expert, demotivation is most often linked to a corporate context. Most of the time, the company hasn’t been able to put the right words to the right actions: setting the direction, highlighting the expected benefits for employees or all the quid pro quos (salaries and other benefits).

In order to detect demotivation, it is necessary to speak with employees, to have time for exchanges and to be present in the field to be able to detect the “illusionist syndrome” in particular.
illusionist syndrome
“. The latter pretends that everything is fine, but the facts point to demotivation (small mistakes, for example).

There are good practices to put in place to prevent demotivation:

  • as HR, ensure that the policy is communicated to all employees, from induction to exit;
  • schedule regular interviews, based on employees’ needs. Some will be more in demand than others;
  • do not skimp on training and skills development;
  • communicate, communicate, communicate.

Opinion surveys are an excellent tool for taking the pulse of the company and implementing corrective actions. However, most de-motivation situations are individual and require action plans specific to the situation encountered by the employee.”

To sum up

En 3 Questions

  • What are the signs of demotivation at work?

    The most common signs of demotivation at work are :

    • Reduced quality of work and productivity;
    • Frequent unjustified absences and late arrivals;
    • A lack of initiative and enthusiasm;
    • Reduced involvement and commitment to projects;
    • Increasing conflict in the workplace;
    • The manifestation of stress, chronic fatigue, RSI.
  • What are the consequences of demotivation at work?

    The consequences of de-motivation in the workplace are human, financial and even impact the company’s image:

    • Increased absenteeism and turnover;
    • Deterioration in work climate and interpersonal relations;
    • Loss of innovation and creativity;
    • Increased risk of errors and missed deadlines;
    • Impact on the company’s reputation;
    • Contagious demotivation within the team;
    • Deterioration of employees’ mental and physical health;
    • Reduced customer satisfaction.
  • How can you prevent demotivation at work?

    Here are a few ways to prevent demotivation at work:

    • Foster a positive and inclusive work environment;
    • Recognize and reward employee contributions;
    • Offer professional development opportunities;
    • Encourage autonomy and initiative;
    • Promote open and transparent communication;
    • Set clear, achievable goals;
    • Actively listen to employee concerns;
    • Ensuring work-life balance.