Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Quality Insider Features
Chris Caldwell
Significant breakthroughs are required, but fully automated facilities are in the future
Dawn Bailey
Helping communities nurture the skilled workforce of the next generation
Leah Chan Grinvald
Independent repair shops are fighting for access to vehicles’ increasingly sophisticated data
Brent Simpson
Even if it works in your favor
Adam Zewe
How do these systems differ from other AI?

More Features

Quality Insider News
Funding will scale Aigen’s robotic fleet, launching on farms in spring 2024
3D printing technology enables mass production of complex aluminum parts
High-end microscope camera for life science and industrial applications
Three new models for nondestructive inspection
Machine learning identifies flaws in real time
Developing tools to measure and improve trustworthiness
On-demand modules provide introduction and fundamentals for pumps and systems
Partnership with local manufacturers to upskill workers for emerging technology

More News

Davis Balestracci

Quality Insider

Another Deeply Hidden, Lurking Cost

These 21 demotivators create slowdowns, mistakes, and inefficient work habits

Published: Monday, June 3, 2013 - 15:22

When improvement initiatives don’t yield the results promised, it’s very tempting to have the knee-jerk reaction of blaming the workers for their poor attitudes and lack of work ethic. But what if one took a counterintuitive approach: looking within one’s business systems for the true causes for low motivation—and for their remedies?

I introduced you to my respected colleague Dean Spitzer in my May 16, 2013, column, “Measurement As a Framework for Strategy.” I first encountered Spitzer’s work in 1996 through his book SuperMotivation (AMACOM, 1995), which I was asked to review. I thought, “Oh no, another empty, platitude-laden book with a catchy title and slick promises.” Was I ever wrong. After reading it, I concluded that working on this concept was the best way to engage frontline workers to help them buy into improvement efforts—sort of a quid pro quo (“something for something”), reciprocal mutual consideration: “I’ll do [this] for you if you’ll do [this] for me.”

Demotivators are performance inhibitors unintentionally built into the way most of us do business. They have a profound impact on performance, yet are often ignored because they stealthily and insidiously creep into an organization to become part of its normal operations.

“Too many managers underestimate the importance of what they consider minor irritations, not realizing how large these irritations loom in the subjective experience of employees,” says Spitzer. “To employees stuck in the middle, these demotivators are not minor at all.”

Acknowledging them and dealing with them is pure gold currency to invest in any improvement effort.

The 21 demotivators

The list of the 21 demotivators follows. Spitzer has identified the first six as the most troubling. Consider: Even the perception that any of these exists means that the demotivator exists in essence in the organization.
• Office politics
• Unclear expectations
• Poorly designed work
• Hypocrisy (not “walking the talk”)
• Being taken for granted
• Being forced to do poor-quality work
• Unnecessary rules
• Unproductive meetings
• Lack of follow-up
• Constant change
• Internal competition
• Dishonesty (being lied to and perceptions of executive/HR “spin”)
• Withholding information
• Unfairness (perceived preferential treatment)
• Discouraging responses (to ideas)
• Criticism (atmosphere)
• Capacity underutilization (of individuals)
• Tolerating poor performance
• Management invisibility
• Over-control
• Taking away past entitlements/privileges


A lot of the fear and anger rampant in organizations today (both expressed and repressed) are due to demotivators. They can result in negative behavior by employees and even affect their health. Some research has shown that 84 percent of workers say they could perform better if they wanted to, and 50 percent of workers said they put forth only enough effort to hang onto their jobs.

Negative behaviors in reaction to demotivators cost American industry $250 billion a year through intentional slowdowns, procrastination, careless repeated mistakes, inattentiveness, unsafe behavior, absenteeism, tardiness, extended breaks, violence, and stealing (petty to major).

Spitzer developed a formula to calculate the cost of demotivation in an organization. For example, three demotivators a day per person in an organization with 100 employees working 240 days a year would cost that company $2.13 million a year.

To find out how your organization stacks up, take this survey.

Part of a continual improvement strategy?

It would be wise to consider ridding the workplace of demotivators—a key strategy toward attaining a culture of continual improvement. For many healthcare organizations, this could be easily integrated into Quint Studer’s framework from his excellent book, Hardwiring Excellence (Fire Starter Publishing, 2004), which many executives have already read when it was a “trendy” read. Studer also has a non-healthcare version titled Results That Last (Wiley, 2007). What became clear to me is that Studer’s concept of a “daily management walk around” (and this includes executives) is the perfect process both to observe symptoms and solicit the perceptions to intuit which demotivators may exist—and act on them immediately.

Many of you are no doubt asking yourselves, “Where are busy executives and managers going to get the time to do this?” Simple: by eradicating “silly meetings” where data insanity prevails; and you did calculate how much those meetings are costing your organization, right? So, what is the ultimate cost of data insanity + demotivation?

Seven strategic steps for dealing with demotivators:
1. Involve key players.
2. Set realistic expectations and a long-term commitment.
3. Identify top priorities.
4. Set a strategy.
5. Make a step-by-step plan.
6. Communicate.
7. Recognize improvement.


The current pace of change in workplaces, as well as society in general, has become a fertile breeding ground for these demotivators. Addressing them in an ad hoc fashion as in the past will no longer work.

How does one identify the most serious demotivators in an organization? I’ll take you back to data next time and show you an innovative statistical technique.


About The Author

Davis Balestracci’s picture

Davis Balestracci

Davis Balestracci is a past chair of ASQ’s statistics division. He has synthesized W. Edwards Deming’s philosophy as Deming intended—as an approach to leadership—in the second edition of Data Sanity (Medical Group Management Association, 2015), with a foreword by Donald Berwick, M.D. Shipped free or as an ebook, Data Sanity offers a new way of thinking using a common organizational language based in process and understanding variation (data sanity), applied to everyday data and management. It also integrates Balestracci’s 20 years of studying organizational psychology into an “improvement as built in” approach as opposed to most current “quality as bolt-on” programs. Balestracci would love to wake up your conferences with his dynamic style and entertaining insights into the places where process, statistics, organizational culture, and quality meet.


A Thought About #5 Make a ... Plan

I suspect "#5 Make a ... plan" is intended to include (or imply) execute the plan and manage the plan (i.e., monitor the plan, report progress, adjust the plan).  It should be obvious, but I've seen too many plans wind up in the drawer to be confident that implied follow-through will actually happen.

Thanks for this, Davis!

Once again, you bring me back down to earth, and remind me that "the soft stuff is the HARD stuff!" Excellent article; can't wait for the tie to data.


I tried to take the survey but got this error message;

"You must be a member and logged in to access this page. If you are not a member, click the Register link in the upper right corner of this page."



Try again

I checked it after I read your message, Bill. You might want to try again. It's in Quality Digest, so maybe when you registered to put in your comment, you got into the system.