"Nancy, what do you think?” said a co-worker.
“Can you repeat the question please?” said Nancy, looking up with half-mast eyelids.
Nancy’s body occupied the room, but that’s about it. Nancy represents an estimated 70% of all workers at any given company in America who are disengaged employees. Nancy’s name has been changed to protect the guilty.
According to Dale Carnegie, out of the 70% of disengaged employees, as much as 26% are actively disengaged. ACTIVELY disengaged? Yikes! No wonder these people don’t hear a wit of the conversation in front of them. Actively disengaged is a frightening condition for an organization that wants to flourish. At some companies, if you listen closely, you can hear the sucking sound. That’s the sound of the positivity and productivity being propelled out of the rooms where these people are sitting.
The team at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill describes these people in the following way: actively disengaged workers are the most damaging employees in the workplace. They are unhappy and let that unhappiness show in words, attitudes and actions. They undermine the performance of others by constantly voicing their displeasure and listing the many reasons why they are so miserable in their jobs.
And I’ll add… they can’t wait for that next employee satisfaction survey where they can share their thoughts with the entire organization, anonymously.
So what do we do about it? For me, a good general rule is to mentally triage them in groups as follows:
– Group A: one-third can be somewhat easily encouraged
– Group B: one-third can be encouraged in time and under the right conditions
– Group F: one-third will never be encouraged no matter what anyone says or does
If we have team leaders that act this way (employees with one or more direct reports), we will encounter a significant impact for all those team members in that lane. They are our priority. And if these leaders are in group F, it’s time to let them be successful in a different organization.
Three quick ways to make an impact on groups A and B…
“And that’s it for the annual ‘My Listening Hour’, thanks for letting me speak to you this entire time. Hope I was clear and concise,” said the CEO with gusto. Conciseness flew out the window 9 minutes into that hour. And hoping our employees understood what was said, once per year, is just fantasy.
Here’s what to do. Speak briefly and then listen. If our speaking time outlasts our listening time, we’ve missed the mark. We must know what is disrupting productivity. Therefore, ask and listen. Often. Provide the opportunity for our employees to share, anytime, to any level within the organization. Yes, the C-level team must be available, even if it’s only for set monthly or quarterly sessions. Let our employees tell us what’s on their mind, and then set a plan to do something about it. That leads me into my next point…
Say, Do, Share
“Thanks for working so hard to learn the minutia of the old system – however, tomorrow we’re launching a new one called OneSizeFitsAll, the training is intensive, but we hope it will be better for you in the long run,” said the new CIO to the entire organization via video clip. Dropping news like this takes time and input from all levels of the organization to unite and foster buy-in.
Building trust is important at all levels. And it must be kept up constantly – like brand new parents with twins. Here’s what to do. When we’re making decisions on programs, products and organizational design, think things through in detail on how our decisions will impact employees. We’ve already done the asking and listening – now’s the time to tell them what we will do together, then do it, and then share what we’ve done - and the positive and personal stories that are wonderful because of it. That leads me to my next point…
“Hey, let’s give Nancy a plaque and parade her up in front of the entire division to make a short speech. She’ll be thrilled!” Unless, of course she’s an introvert, loves her solitude and her greatest fear is public speaking.
Here’s what to do. Recognize – only in the way each individual wishes to be recognized. That means we must get to know our employees on somewhat of a personal level – their likes, pet peeves, favorite color, fears, hobbies. Quick note: introverts and extroverts are tough to identify by their outward appearances and actions.
Our employees are our greatest asset. Yes, more important than our customers, our clients, our shareholders or the media. I will defend that statement any time, any day. Our employees have the opportunity to reinvent our organization. After all, this philosophy continues to create the best and brightest organizations full of happy and fulfilled employees and customers. And these organizations can make the world a better place.
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