All too often in the business world, it’s all about finding the scapegoat. Something goes wrong and everyone immediately wastes precious time and resources trying to pin the blame on someone else. Unfortunately, this type of mindset clouds us from truly assessing situations without bias, often resulting in false answers that get us nowhere.

This is especially true for bosses. While the unmotivated employee pool can certainly seem like a drain, perhaps they are not the ones at fault. Before you go on a witch hunt, take a good, long look at yourself to make sure you’re not the one causing the problems.


It can be hard letting go. Just look at the current trend of helicopter parents actively refusing to let their children develop as individuals. This is no different when you do it to your employees. They are adults, fully capable of taking on responsibilities and succeeding on their own.

By checking in on their project completion every day and otherwise breathing down their necks, your actions explain to them two things. The first is that you don’t trust them. The second is that you don’t respect their work ethic. Though usually unintended, employees come to resent such overbearing behavior and end up revolting. For some, it’s completing projects at a substandard level. For others, it’s quitting and finding a new job.

Picking favorites

Learning to be a great leader means learning how to best utilize the strengths of your entire team. A great boss assigns projects to everyone but puts the best-suited teams to tasks that fit their strengths.

This, however, can all too quickly become a game of favorites. As soon as you start giving one employee every important job or designating one team as the go-to for every project, you begin losing hold of the loyalty and dedication of the rest of the workforce.

Employees need to feel invested in the company and its future. They cannot do this if they are never involved in important matters. Picking obvious favorites breeds a culture of resentment—and this can be harmful not only to those who feel unappreciated, but to the favorites as well. Soon, they are ostracized from the group and may well end up seeking employment elsewhere to escape the vitriol.

Accountability factor

Negativity usually comes to mind when faced with the term “accountability.”

Was a purchase processed incorrectly? Did someone miss a meeting with an important client? Was the project not completed on time? All of these end in one employee owning up to dropping the ball.

Accountability, though, also refers to success. Landing a deal, making a big sale, and doing a fantastic job on a project are all just as important to celebrate as the mishaps are to punish. Just remember—find a strong balance between the two. Too much focus on success and employees will see you as a pushover; too much focus on punishment and the employees will stop trying.

Are you being the communication hub?

As a leader in the company, it makes logical sense that you will receive a lot of communication, be it from your employees needing verification from upper management or vice versa. The problems start when every conversation travels through your email box, clogging up something that already seems impossible to clean out.

When it happens, this jam in the communication pipeline bogs you down and makes you less productive, which then hampers your team’s ability to perform. In such a case, you need to figure out where the problem is coming from.

If employees are contacting you with regards to technical issues, for instance, tell them to contact tech instead of forwarding the email for them. This will teach them immediately that you are not a through line to another department.

Useful feedback

When you sit down with your employees to do feedback sessions, make sure your critiques are useful. When employees come out of meetings with only the vaguest idea of what they’re doing well and what they’re doing wrong, there is a problem.

They need specific guidance. Again, this is about you trusting them as adults to fix their own habits. Tell them directly where they are weakest and provide suggestions on how to improve. For example, it’s not fair to continually berate an employee for coming in late every day when no one in the office has ever told them directly that it’s a problem.

The work environment

Like most aspects of the job, you need to find the happy-medium between dedicated workspace and friendly family time. Both are incredibly difficult to work in, resulting in lowered productivity from everyone.

Instead of thinking of it as a classroom, look at your company like a team. Your employees want to perform well. All they need is guidance and praise from you. Keep the troublemakers in check and you’ll have a team with the flexibility and determination to succeed at anything.

As a final note, it cannot be stressed enough how important trust is to a group of adults. While there will always be unsavory characters, the vast majority of the employee pool is filled with talented individuals that want to succeed at what they do. If you allow company policies to come into effect that threaten privacy, you will very quickly have an untrusting set of workers.

Access to company emails? Fine. Blocking certain websites? Also fine. What is not okay is demanding doctor’s notes for every single sick day or demanding access to their personal social media sites. If you distrust your employees, they will distrust you.

Management is responsible for a lot of what goes on within the employee pool. Should the normal ripples turn into waves, you must step up as an agent of change, targeting yourself first.

They all look to you as the leader, and instead of asking what they can do for you, ask what you can do for them. Only after you’ve verified through trusted colleagues that none of these issues are the cause for dissension should you then look to your employees.

What do you do to keep a positive work environment, and take responsibility as a manager? Share your experience in the comments. 

AvatarAmy Klimek

Amy Klimek is an experienced HR recruiter and VP of Human Resources for ZipRecruiter, a company that simplifies the hiring process for small to medium size businesses. Prior to that Amy has held similar roles at, eBay and US Interactive. For Amy, corporate culture isn't about dogs and free lunches, it's about empowering employees and creating an enriching environment for people to excel.