Engagement Killers: They come in all shapes and sizes

By Mike Cook
Contributing writer

The people in my family, myself and brothers and sisters, are basically working people. I don’t mean blue collar though that’s where my father came from, being an electrician for some 40 years. I mean working people; for the most part we work for other people. I am the exception in the family having had my own business for over 25 years mainly so I could do what I wanted to do.

The one thing we do have in common, my siblings and I, is that we are not goal-driven, save for having a good family life.

We’d like enough money to pay our bills but we don’t measure our life in a material way so being paid fairly is more important than being paid a lot. We’d like our work to be interesting and connected to something larger than ourselves, but we don’t expect to be entertained. That’s not why we are there.

We also have a good work ethic, we arrive on time, and we do good above average work because we have integrity about what we produce. We willingly stay late, we’ll help our co-workers—sometimes even without being asked. We like to see other people succeed and don’t look upon their success with any unusual amount of envy. We are happy for them.

We want to be treated with respect, we’d like to know about things going on in the company that might effect us, we’d like to be asked our opinion on some things—not everything but some. We’d like to feel respected and we want to be told the truth. Don’t lie to us; we’ll make you pay for that.

Given all this I’d say we are like most people who work for someone else, and most people do. Most people do good work, or at least they have the capability to do good work. They have no grandiose ambition save for being able to pay their bills and they do not measure their lives in material terms. Most people do show up on time and everyday, and they’ll willingly stay late as long as it doesn’t become an expectation.

All this being said, worker engagement—the measure of the degree to which workers are giving it everything they’ve got—just slugs along at embarrassingly low levels and has done so for the duration of time it has been measured.

Unfortunately you don’t have to look very hard for the culprit when seeking the source of worker’s low engagement: thoughtless management behavior!

So as I said, I come from a family of workers. One brother is a nurse, the other a shipping agent. One sister a banking administrator/sometimes manager and another sister works in corporate credit. Every one of them has a kit bag full of stories about managers doing stupid, thoughtless things that left them feeling unappreciated, disrespected, lied to or taken for granted.

Here’s a question for you: How many bad management experiences does it take to squash an employee’s spirit? You don’t know do you? Well, then answer me this: How many did it take to squash your spirit? This one you can answer and you can tell me the date, time and name of the person involved and it probably doesn’t take you 30 seconds to do it. Now, even more importantly, have you gotten over it without lasting effects on your attitude towards employment or your employer?

Last week I was in Michigan having dinner with my sister who is involved in corporate credit. Just after we arrived at our table she began, “Well I had my annual review last week.”

I could tell by her tone that she was disappointed. The year before she had told me her manager wrote “Rockstar” in the margin of her review then proceeded to give her an overall “Meets expectations” on the review saying that she was not allowed to give anyone a higher overall rating.

So I asked, “How were you rated this year?” My sister replied, “Oh this year she wrote down Superstar and said she just didn’t know what she’d do without me.” So I asked, “And overall?” With a roll of her eyes she responded, “Meets expectations.”

I’d like to think that I don’t have to say a lot more here. The point is pretty obvious and yet, if confronted that manager would have what they considered a defensible stance on the action taken, despite the fact they if the very same thing happened to them they would be squashed. My sister is not squashed; she’s pissed, feels disrespected, lied to and generally fed up. She’s looking for another job. Big surprise!

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He publishes a semi-weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com and also facilitates a monthly business book reading group at Village Books.

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