How To Regain Motivation At Work?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about regaining motivation: 


I have been at my job for almost two years now and I have lost the excitement and motivation of being there. What are some tips that could help me increase my motivation to work at my job and generally to regain motivation at work?


Feeling Blah


Dear Feeling Blah:

You don’t say what kind of work you do, but I’ll assume that it is engaging enough for you to have once felt excited and motivated about working there. I’ll also assume that you are in a job where you can interact with people, at least sometimes. If your situation is much different than that, let us know. The following are some thoughts that might be helpful, although I’m sure you’ll have to adjust them for your personality, the work culture and work environment. If you adapt them, I’m confident you can regain motivation at work.

1. Spend a bit of time thinking about why you wanted the job in the first place. What did it offer that made you apply and be glad when you were hired? Even if the job isn’t quite what you expected or wanted, or if it’s just a job to fill the space before you get something else, it’s good to remember that you chose it for a reason and you wouldn’t want to be laid off or fired.

Decades ago, my mother worked in a hot, miserable cotton mill, 12 hours a day, six days a week. She hitched rides on a highway to get the fifteen miles or so to work every day and then to come home to five children. My grandmother wrote to her, worried that she was working too hard. My mother wrote her back (and I now have that letter) and said, “Don’t worry about me Mama. No matter how tired I am, when I get my paycheck I suddenly feel real rested!” (I loved my mother, Creola Kincaid Lewis very much, and I love that story!)

Management writers and teachers often say that money is the poorest motivator because it quickly becomes an expectation. Nevertheless, it is the payment we receive for the work we do and it’s good to think how much we need it or enjoy spending it and how much we would hate to not have it. When I had a very tedious task to do at work, I used to focus on what I was going to do with the money I made that day or week. It really did help me feel better about work and as though it all was for something tangible.

2. Apply an acronym that can help you structure your time a bit differently: PAVE. Make everything you do Purposeful, Active, Versatile and Effective. Have a strategy for work, rather than just doing the work. Have a strategy for the people with whom you’re going to interact, rather than having it be happenstance. You won’t need to strategize forever, just occasionally as you need to re-energize. Move more and faster than usual every few hours. Stuff each day with work, rather than slowly slogging through it. Be Versatile and purposely vary the kind of work you do, the people you interact with and the places you go. Again, you won’t have to do this forever, just now and then to recharge.

3. Use what I refer to as Action Arrows, to help you have some new perspectives. The Arrows are a graphic you can easily draw and that looks a bit like a large asterisk.

*The up and down line with arrow points on each end refers to those above you in the organization, at any level and those who may have less experience or a lower position organizationally.

*The line with arrow points that crosses that, side to side, represents peers in your own unit and peers outside your unit or section.

*The line going from the bottom left to the top right points to clients and customers and vendors and suppliers. (Adapt that for the kind of work you do.)

*The line going from the bottom right to the top left, with arrows at the points, represents support functions in every area of your organization (the bottom right arrow) and all the technology you use and the people who support it(top arrow)

When you look at that asterisk…the ACTION ARROWS…can you see how it would help you strategize who to communicate with as part of your versatility, who to ask about issues, where to develop allies, what unit might know something about problems you have, what people could use your information or assistance?

Action Arrows have helped many people reach out more and think more about the bigger picture of their work. Maybe you can use it as well.

4. Have you seen the sign in a dentist’s office that says, “You don’t have to floss every tooth, just the ones you want to keep.”? Floss is the French word for thread, which is what it looks like. If you don’t floss often, your gums become sore and they bleed. When you floss, you stir up the bacteria so it can be washed away. Your gums don’t get tough they simply get healthy and they stop bleeding and hurting. That’s why I advise people to “floss as many people as possible, every day.”

You don’t have to have long conversations, just a few words, a gesture of support or smile and a wave–but it will work best if you are purposeful about doing it. When you don’t interact with one group or person (maybe because you don’t much like them) it’s easy to feel awkward when you DO talk to them, so the next thing you know, you avoid them completely. They’re like sore gums. If you want to feel comfortable, you’ll need to floss them more often!

5.No matter how busy you are with directed work (work you are told to do or have to do as part of your job), look for something to do that is self-initiated: Straighten your desk top, organize supplies, pick up trash, volunteer to do something that needs to be done. If you’re thanked, you’ll like the feeling. If not, you’ll like doing something different.

6. Set a goal–maybe with others. I don’t know how that would work in your workplace, but maybe there is something you would like to accomplish and can work toward it.

7. Make some new friends or business colleagues. Workplace friendships do help the time go quicker–as long as they don’t take away from work of your focus on getting work done.

8. Change things on your desk and create a better work space. I often suggest that people take some time once a week to remove everything from the desktop and wipe it off, then put things back in a slightly different location. It not only helps you feel alert, it is noticed by coworkers when they always see a clean desk.

9. It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes focusing on your health, fitness and quality of life away from work can help you re-motivate about work. Start or add to an exercise program or a nutrition program. Even if work doesn’t feel better, you will!

10. Look for training you can attend, training you can present or training you can gain through reading or talking to others. Become very interested in everything around you that can enhance your work and your way of doing work.

11. Talk to your supervisor or manager about your feelings. You won’t be viewed as complaining, you’ll be seen as honest and questing for ways to be a satisfied employee. Ask if there are areas of your work you need to change or improve in. That kind of question will be so unusual, it’s bound to get some kind of response.

12. Finally, if nothing else works, pretend to be highly motivated and tremendously excited about work. As the talk show hosts might say, “Fake it until you make it.” Present yourself as someone others can envy for the degree to which you are involved, engaged and growing all the time. Those are all ways that have worked for others, including me, for increasing the joy, fun and engagement of work–any work.

You and your work have a relationship, much like a relationship with a person. No matter how great the relationship was at the beginning, at some point it becomes very familiar and routine. We need to be prepared to deal with our response when the honeymoon is over in any of our relationships, including work.

I hope these ideas can be adapted by you in some way and that you recover the zest you had for your job. You may decide after a time that the best solution is to find another job that seems more interesting–and that may be a good idea. But, remember that it too will become familiar. And the person who takes your place at this job will find it exciting and motivational—for awhile, at least!

Best wishes to you with your efforts. If you have the time and wish to do us, let us know what you did and what seemed to help the most.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.