The Hidden Cost of Being Unmotivated At Work

“The boss is coming! Quick, let’s just look at this graph for a while in a serious-looking manner.”

It strikes me that being unmotivated at work is a factor grossly over-looked by many so-called leaders in companies around the world.

We tend to look at such a factor in conservative terms:

If an employee is unmotivated, then many would assume that their output is maybe 20–30% lower than their maximum potential. That them being unbothered about the outcome of their day or the progress of the company puts a dent in their output, but it’s not a major issue.

And considering the complexities of motivation, many managers therefore do not bother addressing the issue.

They’ll just keep assigning tasks or fire the employee if their attitude starts affecting others in the team.

But the cost of being unmotivated at work is enormous.

“How long do you reckon I can drag this coffee break out for?” In my personal experiences working in numerous startups & discussing the issue with founders & friends (all of whom are — or at least have been — employees), the cost is clear:

When unmotivated at work, our actual output is laughably low. If we don’t give a shit, we use any excuse to avoid work.

We drag projects out as long as possible.

We make them unnecessarily complex (and complex-sounding) so we don’t need to worry about the prospect of something new coming down the pipeline.

We find any excuse to get out of work early, to drag that lunch break out, to avoid working on that new project.

The age-old problem of avoiding the boss We sit at our desk, swiping through Facebook just to pass the time when the boss is out the room. Checking the news to bely that slight sense of guilt at wasting our day. We watch TED talks to make us feel more productive.

We do anything to avoid actually getting work done.

And the cost is not that we could be 20–30% better. It’s more like 1000%.

Think of a time when you actually gave a shit.

Think of that feeling where you wake up in the morning, full of energy, you plan your day, you execute, you feel the buzz of excitement, of learning, of happiness with you throughout the day.

You feel a sense of purpose in your work.

You look after your body, your mental health. You work out the best way to approach the problem & to execute. You cut out the intellectual laziness of not bothering. Of just going through the motions. Because you want to achieve. You want to give yourself the best chance of achieving.

That feeling. It’s rare — but it’s something to aim for every day.

And if you find yourself dragging your feet to get into work, whiling away your time on your phone, dreading the prospect of that next big project, then ask yourself:

Do I want to spend my time stagnating? Or would I rather spend it on something I enjoy? Something I’m fascinated by? Something that gives me purpose?

Note: There are estimates available regarding the cost of employee lack of motivation available, but I don’t regard them as particularly helpful in this case, as we are comparing unmotivated employees to slightly-more-motivated-employees at large corporations (where what constitutes “highly motivated” is far off our human potential). Figures suggest the cost is around ~20%, but this seems a gross under-estimation, as our actual potential is far higher than we realise when we are faced with a challenge that we are highly motivated for.)

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Henry Latham

Henry Latham

Founder, Prod MBA

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