Stimulating ‘lazy’ employees

Leaders should learn to deal with barriers to motivation
By Bill Caswell
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/20/2009

Let’s dispel a myth — an employer cannot motivate employees. It can only remove the barriers to motivation. People motivate themselves. So the more de-motivators an employer removes, the less “lazy” employees will be.

The intrinsic barriers to motivation include: a misalignment of values, lack of respect for an employee, poor boss-employee relationship and lack of employee self-actualization.

Misalignment of values

This is the easiest one to deal with — simply match the right person to the right job. One way to make this easier is to use the PAVF approach, which divides people into four sets:

• P is a person who produces, is driven, disciplined, persistent, hard-working and direct.

• A is analytical, thorough, organized, logical, detail-oriented and plans ahead.

• V has visions for improvement and ideas, likes to take risks, is creative, curious and dreams ahead.

• F is friendly, empathetic, engenders co-operation and people-oriented.

While people have some or all of PAVF, most are stronger in one or two of the areas, rarely in three and are never strong in all four.

When misalignment occurs, it’s a hopeless situation and a change will have to be made. For example, a curious employee who asks a lot of questions, takes risks and is full of ideas would not do well in an environment where creativity is frowned upon and is met with responses such as: “Please don’t ask so many questions, just do it the way we say” or “You have many ideas but can’t you just do your job?”

These responses thwart the person’s inner drives. She will become frustrated, unhappy and de-motivated. And a de-motivated person will pay lip service to a job and tend to join the ranks of the lazy.

It is not a case of right and wrong but a misalignment of values. The person described above is a V with inherent (or hard-wired) values (innovative, curious, adventurous) whereas her working environment could be A with just the opposite values (logical, predictable, regular, risk-adverse, repetitive, careful and thorough).

The solution is easy: Get that person out of that environment. While the individual might eventually learn to adjust, with a fundamental misalignment of values, she will always remain dissatisfied with the work and unmotivated.


It is one thing to preach respect, it is quite another to practice it. Respect is appreciating each person’s sovereignty over ideas and thoughts. Respect is allowing those thoughts to exist and validating they exist. An employer doesn’t have to agree with them but it should not trivialize them.

For example, responses such as, “Why would you think that way?” should be avoided. Instead, “You like to brainstorm a lot. Good for you. However, I don’t have much time for it,” is more appropriate. A person encountering such a response senses an agreement to disagree — which is positive.

Respect is being willing to listen to people with ideas different from your own, hearing them out and allowing them to express those thoughts, not cutting them off or injecting your own opinion.

The simplest, most effective response is: “I see.” Listen without interrupting and say, with actions as well as words, “I hear you and I understand that these are concerns for you.” Then, you might add a list of your own concerns.

Boss-employee relationship

Many people who leave jobs cite the untenable relationship with their immediate superior as the real reason for leaving. This disconnect can stem from inadequate training on how to be an effective boss.

But most of the boss-employee tension comes from the misalignment of values between the two people. There are two possible solutions for managers and leaders. One: Learn how to appreciate and take advantage of the talents of someone who is clearly different from you. Two: Move a P person to a P job or an A person to an A job.

Employee self-actualization

And, finally, stop micromanaging and let the employee do the job his own way. Instead of telling an employee how to do a job, tell him what is expected from the job. Focus on the outcome, not the means to achieve it. That way, employees can become owners of their jobs rather than tenants — owners are far more productive than tenants.

Bill Caswell is president of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company in Ottawa and author of The Respect Revolution, which outlines the PAVF approach. He can be reached at or visit for more information.

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