Deciding to challenge your employees or team members would seem to be a great way to motivate them to give you high performance.  Or, so it would seem.

When is the last time senior management where you work set out a high performance strategy based on challenging employees?  When was the concept of challenging your employees last used as a method to motivate your people?

It is interesting that all these managers will have been exposed to leadership development at least once.  They probably have in-depth knowledge of Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory and others that highlight how challenges at work can reap high rewards in terms of performance.  Yet, challenging employees is not a widespread or deliberate practice.



Challenge Your Employees: the barriers

There are many reasons why employers and managers avoid the issue of challenging employees.  I will briefly summarise four here:

  • Focus on the task – managers are appraised on the productivity of their team, not on how motivated the team is based on challenging projects. So, despite the productivity benefits of motivated employees, managers choose to focus on getting the job done.


  • Fear – it is understandable that managers are wary of challenging their team members. They fear it backfiring, perhaps in terms of what team members ask for in return.  Or, maybe, there will be a lack of uptake and a challenge to the manager’s credibility.


  • Too difficult – many employers and managers believe that to challenge their employees, they will need to create challenging projects. They feel that the reward of setting challenges will be outweighed by the effort involved.

bottom up engagement,employee engagement,individual identity at work

  • Underestimating employee ability/interest – of course your employees will show no interest if previously they have not been positively challenged. My earlier blog post (Employee Engagement: an Outcome and a Choice) explains how employees learn the behaviours that offer the best chances of surviving in their workplace.  It is also a common mistake to believe that employees lack the ability.


The key thing to note with these barriers is that they show a lack of understanding as to why people work (see my recent blog post Why People Work).  Basically, employees want to enjoy their work, feel the purpose of their job, and feel that the work they are doing is enhancing their potential for future opportunities.


None of these things that employees are looking for can be achieved when the barriers above block your desire or ability to challenge your employees.

What is preventing you from challenging your employees or team members?

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