Don’t Blame Employees for Lack of Effort—Managers Hold the Key

It’s generally agreed that persuading employees to give more than required can make or break a company. Yet many leaders struggle to get that discretionary effort. The 2022 Gallup State of the American Workplace Report found that only 21% of employees are engaged at work. The good news: Managers have the power to earn discretionary effort. The not-so-good news: Managers often inadvertently discourage over-and-above performance by punishing desired behavior and limiting opportunities for employee contributions. To break negative patterns and elicit lasting, positive change, I recommend these steps:

  • Take note of your interactions with employees. Think about how you respond to suggestions and input, and whether you recognize and reinforce doing more than is required.
  • Identify what individuals find reinforcing. What reinforces one may punish another (think public praise). Be sure you understand and apply the right reinforcers for each individual.
  • Establish yourself as a reinforcer. Positive reinforcement is contagious. If you recognize the good work of others, the good performance of your employees will grow exponentially.
  • Go out of your way to reinforce good work. I can’t say this enough. When you see people perform well, reinforce their behavior. For example, ask them how they accomplished something.

So instead of blaming employees for not doing their best, remember discretionary behavior always comes from what you say and do. If you focus on positively reinforcing behaviors that fit the mission, vision and values of your organization, you’re sure to become a more effective manager and gain more discretionary effort.

Are managers in your company earning discretionary effort?


Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.