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5 Strategies to Motivate an Apathetic Team Member

If you lead a team, chances are you selected each of them—at least in part—because they seemed excited about the prospect of the role. For many people, this excitement wears off over time, but team outings, bonuses, and other motivational structures can help to keep the momentum going. But no matter how hard you try, some team members will get stuck in apathetic—or worse—negative ruts. These strategies can help you get them back on track. 

1. Set a collective vision

While most organizations set wider company visions, missions, goals, etc., that doesn’t mean your team can’t have its own—and specifically one that’s been determined by the members of the team, not just its leader. 

Set aside some time for the entire team to not only evaluate its role within the company, but also to determine how its contribution can be unique. A team vision should be much more than to serve the broader company vision, and it’s important to account for team members’ perspectives on how you can collectively add value. Doing so can give apathetic employees something bigger to work for, which may be important to people who are less concerned with shorter-term outcomes like financial incentives.

2. Dig deeper

Everyone is motivated by different things, which is where the art of being a manager comes in. If one team member seems less responsive to your tactics than others, spend some time trying to figure out what does motivate him or her—first by listening and reading behaviors, but perhaps by sitting them down for a conversation if you can’t seem to crack the code. The reality is that if you don’t understand what your apathetic employee wants, you may waste a lot of time trying various tactics, whereas your time may be better spent deciphering actions and attitudes—or simply asking how you can make their jobs better. 

3. Let them lead

If you always step up to lead so that your team doesn’t have to, they may feel discouraged to go the extra mile because the training wheels of a supportive manager will always be there. While your job as a manager is to set your team up for success, it’s also important to let them spread their own wings.

This can be in small ways to begin with, such as asking them to own a team meeting or suggest strategies for better team communication. If they react positively, create additional ways for them to continue owning leadership responsibilities.

4. Give non-monetary incentives

While money can be a strong motivator, it’s far from the only one—and there’s only so far monetary incentives can go. In addition to supporting the case for fair compensation for each of your employees when reviews season rolls around, create additional incentives to help keep them motivated.

Incentives which help employees to further grow their careers are a good starting place. You might suggest skills trainings, invite them to professional events or talks you’re attending, or offer the opportunity to attend and/or present in meetings with senior management. Use your findings from #2 above to determine what would be an attractive offering for the employee in question.

5. Create feedback loops

Putting a new vision, incentives, and leadership opportunities in place are good starting points—but you’ll need to create relevant feedback loops to understand if your strategies are working. Even if it’s not formal feedback sessions, create structures to monitor whether you’ve been effective, perhaps by measuring the employee’s output or implementing 360 reviews within the team to evaluate how others are interpreting their apathetic colleague’s performance and attitude. 

If you’ve already had a conversation with the employee about motivation and incentives, schedule follow-ups to discuss whether they feel things have changed for the better. Some people simply need their voice to be heard, and regular feedback can often help to foster that feeling.