From The Professor: (un)Motivated


One of the 16 key factors in determining a person’s compatibility with an employer is the amount of engagement that occurs. In this context, how much effort does one exert into motivating employees?   As a college professor, an interesting paradox occurs in the context of motivating students in the classroom.


Attending college is a privilege, particularly for those who can find the necessary funding to pay the ever-increasing tuition cost.   Given the expense, one would think those students would be clamoring to capture every minute of classroom time and fully take in the learning experience. However, students often demand less for their money. Some skip several classes. Others do not take advantage of available resources such as professor office hours, extra review periods, a writing center that will assess papers, or meeting with teacher assistants for help.

Part of the reluctance may be the requirement to take certain classes outside their chosen major to graduate, such as a business student having to take an astronomy or religion course. Even within the major, there may be courses where a student may lack the proper enthusiasm. One such course is Business Statistics, where I add a second strike by teaching it at an undesirable time – early in the morning. A quick survey this morning indicated that none of the 32 students would have registered for the course if it were not required.

At the end of the semester evaluations of the professor and the course, students are often asked some questions about their approach to the courses they are enrolled. “I am well-prepared for class.” “As a result of taking this course, I have deepened my interest in and/or appreciation of the subject matter.” “I actively participate in class.” “I do my part to learn as much as possible in this course.” A class such as business statistics typically scores lower, on average, than the college mean.


What does the classroom setting have to do with the workplace? In many organizations, as with students, there are employees waiting to be challenged. These employees may be in jobs with little skill variety or task significance. Or, they have plateaued in their position and find it hard to get excited about a job in which they have previously put their significant time, energy, and resources.

To combat this, organizations can:

  • Clarify and communicate role and job expectations.

Through clear expectations, employees ( as well as students) have a better understanding of the requirements for the job. Further, by communicating those expectations, employees will have an opportunity to address any confusion and minimize concerns about performance.

  • Identify and eliminate roadblocks to good performance

While this may be a burden to managers, they need to remove barriers that make it difficult to succeed. As a professor, I often work with students (when they do come into office hours) to see how they are preparing for the material being covered. Are they setting time aside each day to focus on the chapter covered or are they waiting until the last minute and cramming? Are they utilizing the resources available on campus?

Similarly, are workers given all the tools necessary to the job successfully? Is the organization hiring peers with whom employees want to be teamed? Are bad managers being identified and removed from a leadership role?

  • Reward excellent performance

As the saying goes, “behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated.”   In the classroom, if a student misses a class, yet is still able to succeed on an exam, I remove the absence from the record. If employees are meeting and exceeding expectations, appropriate recognition should follow.

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