Workplace True ConfessionsBy Janine Moon
I recently read about a ‘true confessions’web site where “American workers share office sins…” At first pass, the entries are humorous and sometimes outrageous; it doesn’t seem possible that so many people are disenchanted with their workplaces and spend so much time not working.
[I’ve been here] “for 15 years, but we normally get a new boss every 2 or 3 years. I just recycle my old action plans, personal development plan, targets, etc. using the same one I used 3 years ago. The new boss thinks it’s great, and I can save myself time so I can continue to surf the net!”
“I spent five hours today screwing around on the Internet, and right before I left I was named employee of the month!”
And my favorite…”I’m sitting in my office with the door closed, peeling my sunburned legs—for overtime pay. Sweet.”
The ‘employee of the month’ comment aside, we each have enough Dilbert in us that we can somehow relate, and maybe even lol (laugh out loud). Keep reading, though, and you’ll find a theme throughout many of these messages, a theme that no one is willing to admit out loud:
Actually, this anecdotal information confirms what Gallup polls have been telling us for years and organizations have been ignoring. It seems strange that any business would continue to pay people who aren’t working…who aren’t moving the organization forward…who don’t believe they have any stake in the organization’s success—because only the ‘bosses’ count.
These 10 million-plus interviews continue to reinforce that about 70% of the American workforce is not committed or caring much about their work, or the contribution they do - or could - make. This great majority puts little or no discretionary effort into their jobs. This “unengaged” group, to make matters even more interesting, is comprised of those who are “not engaged” (52%) (sleepwalking and putting in time) and those who are “actively disengaged” (17%). This latter group is physically present, but they undermine others’ work: “seat burners,” if you will.
When these findings are bumped up against revenue production, the numbers become interesting: in one nationally-prominent organization, their “not engaged” employees produced 23% less revenue than their “engaged” account execs, and those “actively disengaged” produced 28% less revenue. The bottom line? The organization was losing 23 to 28 cents on every revenue dollar. Those parts of the organization that improved their employee “engagement” found that, in two years, they grew their revenue six times faster than those that didn’t improve associate engagement.
So, whatever the source, it appears that lots of people go to work every day and don’t do much work. Some, like most of the anonymous writers above, go to sit in a cubicle and put in their time. One of two things is happening: either employees are savvy sandbaggers, or organizations are not measuring results—they are really paying people for showing up. Given what I know about human behavior and motivation, as well as organization cultures designed and worshipped by Baby Boomers who refuse to give them up, my money is on the latter.
One other relevant piece of information for this discussion: about 17% of workers go to work each day and use their strengths…which means that 83% don’t. So what?
When you consider that people are motivated by using their strengths and talents to contribute to something meaningful, and that most of the workforce never gets to use their strengths, it’s not all that surprising that ‘not much work is happening.’
So, why don’t people apply their strengths at work?
- Some people have never heard they have ‘strengths.’ Their performance reviews and managers only tell them about their ‘weaknesses’ and what they need to do to fix them so they can fit into their job box better;
- Lots of organizations are still governed by fear and command and control: they prefer their employees not think too much, and that they follow rules and stay within the lines;
- Many managers are threatened by employees who may have better ideas than their managers…they don’t want to look bad, so they neither encourage nor accept original thought;
- Organizations haven’t yet ‘bought into’ the significance of professional development for success in our information and conceptual economies, so employees have limited opportunity to step into their strengths and figure out how to use them for dual advantage—theirs and the organization’s;
- People do what they’re told because to not do so puts more stress on the already tenuous, invisible work ‘contract,” and individuals still have taken almost no responsibility for managing their own careers…so they are tethered to whichever employer will keep them on the payroll;
- Organizations use “strengths” and “skills” interchangeably…and they are not.
Small, simple steps can make a huge difference. Since the manager is the “face” of the organization for each employee, managers can get the biggest bang for the buck most quickly. If you’re one of those managers, select one of these and start:
Find time each day to talk with each employee; stop by a work space, or call on the phone; ask the employee’s opinion on a process, approach or outcome and then, do something with the information so the employee knows he or she was heard! (Yes, I know it takes time…but it’s your most important job if you want employees who do their best for you.)
Be certain that every individual knows exactly how his or her work is contributing to the business. People need to feel that the work they do matters.
Recognize every single employee regularly, at least weekly. Recognition consistently scores higher in importance to employees than more money. This doesn’t have to be an award or a big deal; something as small as a quick email or voice mail that says ‘I know you stayed late to finish the project—thanks!” is enough. Find out how each individual appreciates recognition (some like their good work noted in a staff meeting, others prefer to hear it quietly) and provide it that way. It’s about them, not you.
Talk to each employee about development direction—at least quarterly—not just at performance review time. Encourage them to learn their strengths and use them in their work, and talk with you about how to broaden their experience and contribute even more significantly to the organization.
While there are a number of other steps a manager can take, to even focus on one of these will develop more engagement in any work place. Practicing several will create workers who are engaged with their hearts and minds. This commitment is the only kind that really matters when global competition is centered on information and innovation. The manufacturing economy had room for robots and workers who asked no questions, but “kept their noses to the grindstone.” The economy of the 21st century doesn’t…and only those businesses that recognize this are the ones “built to last.”