fbpx Skip to main content

Working with people has its highs and lows. When relationships are positive, it’s far easier to make things work because all parties want to contribute, share ideas and collaborate more effectively. But what if the relationship isn’t so great when expectations and agendas are mismatched and things aren’t working out so well? 

I had been presenting on social intelligence skills, how leaders and managers can use a number of social behavioural drivers to keep colleagues and clients in a “towards” state, maximising motivation and minimising those potential threats that can so easily derail our working relationships, such as lack of respect, impartiality, autonomy or clarity of message. 

One member of the group said, “That’s all well and good, but what about when the other person is not motivated?”

It’s a big problem because as I learned in ballroom dancing classes many years ago, it’s good to have someone leading but you still need two pairs of feet willing to work together. 

It’s a bit like the challenge we have with our dog, Ellie. She’s cute, loveable, and extremely wilful. 

Have you ever met a dog that dislikes walking? 

Ellie is our second dog. Our first loves a walk. As soon as he sees you heading towards the drawer where the leads are kept, he’s up, tailing wagging in delighted anticipation. 

Not so much with Ellie who will slink back to bed with a disdainful look on her face as if to say “You cannot be serious!” 

Ellie has only two desires in life. To eat and sleep, or sleep and eat. She has no particular preference of order, but that’s all she’s willing to commit to.  

Exercise? Walkies? 

Nah. Nope. Don’t even think about it. 

Which doesn’t sit well with the household expectation that, in addition to being provided with board and lodging, the dogs will accompany their owners in a joyful manner on their daily constitutional around the park. 

Her lack of motivation manifests as a rather spectacular and highly unpredictable nose-dive to lie prone on the grass, looking at you with one eye as if to say, “I dare you!” Probably because she knows it’s not a good look to be seen tugging on her lead while encouraging her to stand up. And it just makes her cough. She doesn’t appear to mind being dragged along on her side, because it means she’s won the battle. The sole motivating factor we have found to work is bribery and corruption (doggy snacks) but only with a shoulder wrenching 10 kg resentment hanging off the end of the lead. 

Concerned, we took her to the vet to see what the issue might be. Did she have a heart complaint or thyroid problem? Was she depressed? 

No said the vet, she’s just lazy! 

When we acquired Ellie, somehow we never got round to puppy school. Our first dog went and learnt the expected etiquette of being a loyal and faithful hound based on mutual respect, shared values (a love of the great outdoors) and fun. She’ll learn from her elder we thought. But no. Without that prenup agreement, Ellie has never been even the slightest bit motivated to comply with any of our expectations except to eat her dinner, demand seconds and sleep soundly. 

Now it must be said, doggy snacks probably won’t work terribly well with people, but what if, especially when an employee has been offered further training, or rehabilitation to assist in recovery from a work-related injury or illness, that some sort of undertaking is reached between all parties to fully committing to participating in the process first.  

Because if there is a lack of commitment or motivation to contribute to the task at hand on either side, it’s a huge waste of resources and everyone’s time and effort. 

Workplace unwellness is a massive problem, costing the Australian economy well in excess of $61.8 billion dollars a year. 

There are armies of rehabilitation counsellors, occupational physicians, specialist OT’s, physios and exercise physiologists ready, willing and able to assist an injured or sick employee back to work. When the programs work well it’s hugely rewarding for everyone and massively frustrating when they don’t. 

I’m not professing to have the answer to the problem, but am inherently curious as to what the missing factor(s) for greater success in motivation might be? 

  • Would a prenup agreement help? 
  • Would focusing on what the employee’s measure of success means for them be helpful? 
  • How much is work design a factor? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

(Any potential solution to the dog-walking problem will be gratefully received. Balls and Frisbees have already been tried.) 

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

Leave a Reply