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The Myth of 100% Motivation: Why You're Probably Under-Performing at Work and How to Fix It

Are you tired of feeling like you're not living up to your full potential at work? Do you sometimes feel like you're just going through the motions, unable to tap into your true talents and abilities? If so, you're not alone. Research suggests that few individuals are 100% motivated throughout sustained periods at work. In fact, even if you think you're performing to the best of your capabilities, chances are you're wrong. There's a gap between what people think of their performance and how they actually perform, and it's wider than you might think.

The reasons for this gap are varied and complex, but they can be boiled down to four main factors: (1) poor fit, (2) disengagement, (3) organizational politics, and (4) personal circumstances. In this article, we'll explore each of these factors in-depth and provide practical tips for overcoming them. By understanding the invisible forces that govern the dynamics of organizations and optimizing your job to fit with your interests, beliefs, and broader life activities, you can unlock your full potential and perform to the best of your abilities.

1. Poor Fit: Talent is Mainly Personality in the Right Place

Have you ever felt like a square peg in a round hole? If so, you know what it's like to be in a job that's not a good fit. When your personality, values, and work style don't align with your job and organization, it's like trying to force a puzzle piece into the wrong spot. No matter how hard you try, it just won't fit.

A poor fit between an individual's strengths, weaknesses, and interests and the requirements and culture of the job can lead to disengagement and underperformance. When an individual's skills and abilities are not aligned with the demands of the job, they may feel unchallenged, unfulfilled, or even overwhelmed. This can result in a lack of motivation, decreased productivity, and a higher likelihood of turnover.

For example, an individual who is highly creative and enjoys generating new ideas may struggle in a role that requires repetitive, routine tasks. Similarly, an individual who is detail-oriented and enjoys analyzing data may not thrive in a role that requires a lot of public speaking and networking.

A poor fit can also lead to a lack of engagement and satisfaction with one's job, which can affect an individual's mental and physical well-being. Research has shown that employees who are unhappy in their jobs are more likely to experience stress, burnout, and other negative emotions, which can impact their overall health and well-being.

Furthermore, a poor fit can also impact an individual's career advancement and opportunities for growth. If an individual is not performing well in their current role, they may not be considered for promotions or other opportunities within the organization. This can limit their career advancement and earning potential, which can have long-term consequences for their professional and personal life.

To avoid a poor fit, it is essential for individuals to carefully consider their strengths, weaknesses, and interests when choosing a career path or job opportunity. They should also research the job requirements, culture, and values of the organization to ensure that they align with their own goals and values. Employers can also play a role by providing clear job descriptions, offering opportunities for professional development, and fostering a positive work culture that supports employee engagement and satisfaction.

Poor fit between an individual's strengths, weaknesses, and interests and the requirements and culture of the job can have significant consequences for both the individual and the organization. It is essential for individuals to carefully consider their strengths, weaknesses, and interests when choosing a career path or job opportunity, and for employers to provide a supportive work environment that fosters employee engagement and satisfaction.

2. Disengagement: Finding Time to Be Curious and Learn, Connecting with Colleagues, and Talking to Your Boss

Disengagement refers to a state of being disconnected or disenchanted with one's job or work environment. It's a common problem in many organizations, and it can have negative consequences for both employees and employers.

There are several reasons why employees may become disengaged at work. Some of the most common causes include:

  1. Lack of challenge or meaningful work: Employees who feel like they're not being challenged or that their work isn't meaningful may become disengaged.

  2. Poor management or leadership: Employees who feel like their manager or leadership team is ineffective, unsupportive, or uncommunicative may become disengaged.

  3. Lack of recognition or rewards: Employees who feel like their efforts are not recognized or rewarded may become disengaged.

  4. Poor work-life balance: Employees who feel like they're overworked, undervalued, or that their work is impacting their personal life in a negative way may become disengaged.

  5. Lack of opportunities for growth and development: Employees who feel like they're not learning or growing in their role may become disengaged.

Disengagement can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Decreased productivity: Disengaged employees may produce less work or produce work of lower quality.

  2. Absenteeism or tardiness: Disengaged employees may miss or be late to work more frequently.

  3. Lack of motivation: Disengaged employees may lack the motivation to take on new projects or tasks.

  4. Negative attitude: Disengaged employees may express negative views about the organization or their colleagues.

  5. Turnover: Disengaged employees may ultimately leave the organization.

To address disengagement, organizations can take several steps, such as:

  1. Regularly surveying employees to understand their concerns and needs.

  2. Providing opportunities for growth and development.

  3. Recognizing and rewarding employee achievements.

  4. Encouraging open communication and feedback.

  5. Fostering a positive work culture that values and supports employees.

Disengagement is a common problem in many organizations that can have negative consequences for both employees and employers. By understanding the causes of disengagement and taking steps to address it, organizations can create a more positive and productive work environment.

3. Organizational Politics: It's Naïve to Think That You Can Let Your Talents Speak for Themselves

Organizational politics refers to the informal power dynamics and social structures that exist within an organization. It is a natural aspect of any group of people working together, and it can have a significant impact on an individual's performance and success within the organization.

In any organization, there are individuals who have more power and influence than others. This power and influence can be based on a variety of factors such as job title, seniority, personal relationships, and expertise. These individuals may use their power and influence to shape the organization's culture, make decisions, and advance their own careers.

Organizational politics can manifest in various ways, such as:

  1. Gossip and rumors: Gossip and rumors can spread quickly through an organization, and they can have a significant impact on an individual's reputation and relationships.

  2. Cliques and factions: Cliques and factions can form within an organization, with individuals forming alliances and coalitions to advance their own interests.

  3. Power struggles: Power struggles can occur when individuals or groups compete for limited resources, recognition, or influence within the organization.

  4. Favoritism and nepotism: Favoritism and nepotism can occur when individuals in positions of power use their influence to promote or advance their friends, family members, or other favored individuals.

  5. Information hoarding: Information hoarding can occur when individuals or groups withhold information or resources from others in order to maintain their power and influence.

To successfully navigate organizational politics, individuals can take several steps:

  1. Observe and listen: It's important to observe and listen to the dynamics within the organization to understand the power structures and relationships at play.

  2. Build relationships: Building relationships with key individuals within the organization can help to increase one's influence and access to information.

  3. Communicate effectively: Effective communication is key to building relationships and advancing one's interests within the organization.

  4. Be strategic: It's important to be strategic in one's actions and decisions, taking into account the potential impact on one's career and relationships within the organization.

  5. Seek mentorship: Seeking mentorship from individuals who have successfully navigated the organization's politics can provide valuable insights and guidance.

  6. Be adaptable: It's important to be adaptable and flexible in response to changing power dynamics and political structures within the organization.

  7. Maintain integrity: It's important to maintain one's integrity and values in the face of organizational politics, avoiding behaviors that could compromise one's professionalism or reputation.

Organizational politics is a natural aspect of any organization, and it can have a significant impact on an individual's performance and success. By understanding the power dynamics at play and taking steps to navigate them effectively, individuals can increase their influence and achieve their career goals.

4. Personal Circumstances: No Matter How Engaged and Talented Someone Is, Personal Drawbacks and Setbacks Will Often Interfere with Their Career Success

Personal circumstances can have a significant impact on an individual's performance at work. These circumstances can include a range of factors such as health issues, family responsibilities, financial stress, and other personal problems. When an individual is facing personal challenges, it can be difficult to focus and be productive at work.

Health issues, for example, can affect an individual's ability to perform physically or mentally. Chronic illnesses, disabilities, or temporary health problems can make it challenging to meet job demands, leading to decreased productivity and performance. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or stress can also impact an individual's ability to concentrate and focus, leading to decreased work performance.

Family responsibilities can also impact an individual's work performance. For example, an individual who is a primary caregiver for a family member may need to take time off work to care for their loved one, leading to decreased productivity. Additionally, family problems such as divorce, childcare issues, or elder care can cause stress and distraction, making it challenging to focus on work responsibilities.

Financial stress is another personal circumstance that can impact work performance. Financial problems can cause an individual to feel anxious or worried, leading to decreased focus and productivity. Additionally, financial stress can lead to absenteeism or tardiness due to issues such as car trouble or transportation costs.

Other personal problems such as relationship issues, substance abuse, or legal problems can also affect an individual's work performance. These issues can cause stress, anxiety, or depression, leading to decreased productivity and performance.

To overcome personal circumstances that are impacting work performance, individuals can take several steps. These steps include:

  1. Seek support: Individuals should seek support from family, friends, or professional counselors to help them manage their personal problems.

  2. Communicate with the employer: Individuals should communicate with their employer about their personal circumstances and seek accommodations such as flexible work arrangements or time off when needed.

  3. Prioritize self-care: Individuals should prioritize self-care by taking care of their physical and mental health, exercising regularly, and engaging in stress-reducing activities.

  4. Seek help from employee assistance programs: Many employers offer employee assistance programs that provide resources and support for employees facing personal challenges.

  5. Consider a job change: If personal circumstances are impacting work performance, and the individual cannot resolve the issues, it may be time to consider a job change.

Personal circumstances can significantly impact an individual's performance at work. It is essential for individuals to recognize the impact of personal problems on their work and seek support and resources to manage these challenges. Employers can also play a critical role in supporting employees by providing resources and accommodations to help them manage personal circumstances that may be impacting their work performance.


It is important to recognize that talent alone is not enough to excel and impress in the workplace. Optimizing job fit, maintaining curiosity, navigating organizational politics, and managing personal circumstances are all critical factors in unleashing one's true potential. By aligning interests, beliefs, and broader life activities with work, individuals can create a harmonious environment that promotes their growth and allows them to perform to the best of their capabilities. Remember, self-reflection and self-awareness are key to understanding your own performance and identifying areas for improvement. By continuously evaluating and adapting, individuals can overcome obstacles and unlock their true potential in the workplace.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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