Rethinking 5 Beliefs that Erode Workplace Motivation

"What do you think?" handwritten with white chalk on a blackboarCan you fill-in-the-blanks on these common workplace belief statements?

  • It’s not personal, it is just ________.
  • The purpose of business is to _____ _______.
  • We need to hold people ___________.
  • The only thing that really matters is _______.
  • If you cannot measure it, it _________ ________.

We have embedded these beliefs so deep in our collective psyche that I bet you do not even need to check your answers. However, just because these belief statements are common, does not mean they are legitimate. I encourage you to consider that holding these beliefs may be undermining your ability to effectively cultivate a motivating environment for those you lead.

In this blog we will explore the first eroding belief: “It’s not personal, it is just business.”  We will tackle the other belief statements in upcoming posts.

Are You Kidding?

As a manager, you deliver information, feedback, or news to an individual that affects his or her work, livelihood, opportunities, status, income, mood, health, and/or well-being. How is this not personal?

On average, employees spend 75% of their waking hours connected to work—getting ready for work, getting to work, working, returning home from work, and decompressing. Oftentimes, employees spend more time interacting with coworkers than family members. Yet managers believe their actions are not personal and just business? Are you kidding?

Getting at the Root of the Belief

Trust me, what you say and do feels personal to the people you lead! Therein lies the issue. The new “F-word” in business, it seems, is Feelings. Is this because we hold a belief that expressing feelings does not belong in the workplace? If so, where did this belief come from?

I welcome your opinion. Here is mine: Feelings are discouraged in business because managers do not have the skill to effectively deal with them. True, some employees do not self-regulate well and may let their emotions get the best of them from time-to-time. But the fear of unruly emotions is disproportionate to the occurrence and severity of emotional outbreaks.

Research shows that even though people judge their work environment both emotionally and cognitively, emotions are the primary determinant of their sense of well-being[1] As a manager, your actions strongly influence the outcome of an individual’s appraisal process that results in a sense of well-being—or not. If you do not notice, acknowledge, and deal with a person’s emotions, you may unwittingly be undermining that sense of well-being that is the vital link to a person’s intentions and behavior.

Try this for the next month: Instead of holding on to a traditional belief that potentially undermines people’s motivation, listen to your heart and acknowledge the crucial role that feelings play in work and life. Try changing that traditional belief to an Optimal Motivation belief: “If it is business, it must be personal.”

Watch how your leadership changes as your belief changes. Then notice the positive affect your changed belief has on those you lead.

About the author:

Susan Fowler is one of the principal authors—together with David Facer and Drea Zigarmi—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ new Optimal Motivation process and workshop.  Their posts appear on the first and third Monday of each month.



[1] Zigarmi, D., Nimon, K., Houson, D., Witt, D., & Diehl, J. (2011). A preliminary field test of an employee work passion model. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 22(2), 195-221.

Zigarmi, D., Houson, D., Witt, D., and Diehl, J. 2011. Employee Work Passion Connecting the Dots. Escondido, California. The Ken Blanchard Companies.

20 thoughts on “Rethinking 5 Beliefs that Erode Workplace Motivation

  1. Outstanding piece! Thanks for sharing it. I can’t wait for the others pieces that follow !

    Make it a great Monday!

    Sent from my iPhone at John Liston Liston Advisory Group

  2. This post really hit home with me. I have been making a transition toward a leadership position in my career. I had been coached by a savvy, successful Gen-X CEO that was not used to mixing work and non-work to create life at this moment. In fact, I disregarded my own instincts for fear that they were wrong, trusting instead in my mentor. Through enough trial and error, I now test my instincts to trust my instincts. One of my favorites thus far has been how personal work actually is. We’re now beginning to build a culture of like minded folks and this article is a great re-enforcer of that concept. Thank you!

  3. Dear Rachael–it is refreshing to read how your values went from being “programmed,” to developed. It is easy to assume the values of authority figures; it is true growth to consider the alternatives and make a choice for yourself. Choosing to evaluate your beliefs and build values you prize and cherish–such as business being personal!

  4. A great topic. I agree with your reasons behind why feelings were driven out of business. However, when you look at small companies (in general) the feelings and emotions are still there in my experience. They haven’t been driven out like in large organizations. I think a reason for this is the litigious society we have cultivated. If you take out feelings you leave documentation and a CYA culture. We haven’t been taught how to keep feelings in the picture and still protect our companies. Have you seem the same things?

  5. Pingback: Rethinking 5 Beliefs that Erode Workplace Motivation | Movers, Shakers, Leadership Makers

  6. What a good post !! There is one issue that I have always had in the past. It has always been dealing with the emotions of my employees. I have been trying to be more conscious of how I deal with them. I think the end of the post where you give us homework is what I will work on in the future. I think that going with your heart and doing what you feel is right – may be the best advice. I cannot wait for the rest of the posts !!!

  7. Great discussion. Saying “It’s just business” seems more and more like a way to justify decisions that will hurt the people running the company. Yes, sometimes tough decisions must be made. Yes, sometimes it’s means the long-term sustainability of the company happens and at the expense of some people along the way. Managers shouldn’t minimize those decisions but sweeping it under the “it’s just business” rug though.

  8. Yes! LEADwithIN, feelings should be your main drive in leading teams, love the post. Treat people with dignity and respect and you will built great teams and you as leader will grow from Great to Greatest. Who ever said that leaders can not be Kings!

  9. Reblogged this on 101 Ways to Make Friends and commented:
    We recently talked to an agency that supports people with disabilities that had done a survey of why staff wanted to work there – and 90% of them said it was because of the people they supported. Yep, it’s personal. Our staff are giving their hearts 🙂 let’s celebrate them.

  10. It is very personal. I want my leaders to take their work very personal. We are feeding our families, putting shoes on our children and a roof over our heads from our efforts.
    Not me! All of us.
    I want ownership from my leaders. I want them to take their work very personal when they lead just like I do.
    The only thing separating me from them is the risk I have taken to own the business.

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  14. That is absolutely personal 🙂
    The fact that employees are human beings and they are not those robots with ‘switch on switch off’ facilities proves that they are subject to feelings and personal indulgence. For a person, a job is just not about giving service: it about giving time and time is the best thing you can give to anybody. That is personal 🙂
    Thanks for sharing that thought provoking post!

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