Motivation is a constant and sometimes elusive goal for business leaders, who must work to balance the need for organizational control with employee satisfaction. While low motivation can come from a number of sources, it can lead to many of the same negative effects. Understanding the downside of low motivation can also help businesses avoid it in the first place.


The effect of low employee motivation can take several different forms. In most cases it leads to some type of poor performance. Employees who lack motivation may stop caring about the quality of their work. Those who don't expect recognition are likely to feel comfortable passing on blame for failing to meet objectives or producing low quality work, leaving them little reason to devote additional time or effort to their tasks.


While performance losses cover the qualitative effect of low motivation, decreases in productivity are among the quantitative effects of the problem. For example, low motivation encourages absenteeism, including unexcused or unplanned absences and chronic lateness. Employees who lack motivation may also spend more working hours attending to personal issues or socializing, both of which contribute to decreased productivity.


Low motivation often has a high cost for businesses that experience it in their workforces. According to Nicole Fink of Roberts Wesleyan University, low levels of morale cost American businesses hundreds of billions of dollars each year, much of which comes from unscheduled absenteeism. For businesses of all sizes, this represents a competitive disadvantage against businesses where motivation levels are high. For small businesses and those facing financial difficulties, however, it may mean the difference between surviving and going out of business.


Just as there is no single cause of low employee motivation, there is also no single solution. However, businesses can take steps to keep motivation high or address a lack of morale. Listening to employees and considering their complaints is one way to identify the source of a motivation problem. If employees don't feel valued or trusted, a system of recognition -- such as performance bonuses or more responsibility for certain positions -- may solve the problem. Servant leadership, which refers to a management style that places the needs of other workers ahead of personal achievement, is another strategy that a business can employ to create a top-down approach to improving motivation.