Motivational posters can be so demotivating

You see them everywhere – motivational posters hanging proudly from the walls of companies that think of themselves as people-centered. Sometimes the posters are taped unceremoniously to whatever surface exists – a piece of tape extending diagonally across the corner. Other times, someone has taken great care and hidden the tape underneath the corners. To add some elegance to the décor, some posters are framed with glass and a matte added to preserve and carefully show them off.

blank posters on a wall

Motivational posters actually do a great job of adding color to some otherwise drab locations that would be simply vast expanses of grey or beige walls. Sunrises, kittens, horses, waterfalls, rainbows – all are preferred images for the aspirational messages written in flowing script with sayings along the lines of

“There is no “I” in team”.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

“There is no such thing as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder.

These and other quotes are just a little too sappy for many staff who come to work every day with positive approaches and attitudes anyway. What may work well in an office or a cubicle may not work at all in public space. Teams can post their own posters, but it is a different thing if the company does so.

I have no idea who invented the motivational poster, but I am fairly certain that it was someone who knew little to nothing about human nature or motivation. Maybe it was a greeting card writer who saw the poster as a new medium for communication. Maybe it was someone working for a paper company looking for new and novel ways to use more paper.

At best, staff are blind to the posters hanging in their offices or factories and have learned to block out their messages. At worst, people become cynical because of the messages and the unthinking bosses who imagine that they do anything but insult the sensibilities of thinking individuals.

Many people are fans of inspiring quotes – me included. I enjoy many of the quotes shared in social media and sent directly to me by friends. Somehow, though, when even those quotes get added to posters and posted within a company, they don’t have the same positive effect.

So think carefully before you head down the path of adding motivational posters to your workplace. They just may backfire on you.

Latest Posts

Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.