“What is your focus for today’s call?” I asked David, my client of several weeks. David is an employee in the accounting department of a printing company employing almost 200 people. I was hired to coach several members of this organization, some of whom were HIPOs which is short for high-potential employees. Then, there were the employees like David. David was in the group that was on individual performance improvement plans.
To my opening question, he responded: “I don’t know. I haven’t given it any thought. Sorry.” The ‘sorry’ did not sound apologetic at all, but dismissive.
“What would make this conversation a really productive use of your time?” I asked.
“I don’t know. What would you suggest?” David replied, as though lobbing the ball back into my court.
Not a coach to allow my clients to get me to do their work for them, I reminded David that: “A coaching conversation isn’t about me telling you what you should focus on. My job is to help you figure out where you want to go and how you want to get there.” Then, I tried again. “If you could walk away with one golden nugget to make this a productive call for you, what that look would like to you?”
“I really don’t know.” David’s short tone and lack of energy said more than his actual words.
Giving an inch, I asked: “How does this sound? Would it be helpful if you talk me through how you are doing with a goal from your performance plan?” There was a long silence on the line as I gave David the time he needed to gather his thoughts and formulate his response.
“This conversation is confidential, right?” his voice was slow and heavy.
“Yes, it is,” I assured.
“I am just not interested in coming in here every day and be expected to work my butt off so Mr. Big Boss Man up there can get rich. Why should he pull up in a Lexus when I drive a beat up, old Ford? Sorry, but it makes me feel sick. I come in at 9 to do my job until 5, get paid and go home. No more. No less. That’s it, that’s all. You may think I’m a jerk, but that’s just how I am. Sorry.”
This conversation, fictionalized enough to maintain the privacy of all involved, is important because it demonstrates the symptoms known as ‘quit but stayed’. David is a chronic under-performer who, while physically present at work, is contributing the bare minimum of effort to avoid being let go. He is disengaged and he is not a rare breed in Canada. Actually, he is just like most Canadian employees.
If you are thinking “if any of my employees are like David, then I am happy to show them the door”, you are not alone. I have heard that opinion from many business owners.
Or, you may think that this problem does not apply to you. If that is so, you would be one of the rare leaders in Canada with a well-engaged workforce.
Through its research, Gallup confirms that workers like David are the norm and not the exception.
Gallup found that 87 percent of workers worldwide are either not engaged or actively disengaged (70 percent in the US, 83 percent in the U.K. and 84 percent in Canada).
Engagement is the result companies achieve when they stimulate employee’s enthusiasm for their work and direct it towards organizational success. (The Hay Group)
There are three zones of engagement that leaders must be able to identify:
- Engaged employees feel connected to their work, colleagues, and the company’s leaders. Their energy is positive and inspires everyone in their wake. The engaged do everything in their power to propel the organization towards growth and success. They are your HIPO’s.
- Disengaged employees have ‘quit and stayed.’ They put in the time, but no discretionary effort, energy or enthusiasm. They do the minimum they need to do to avoid being let go, but nothing more. This level of disengagement can be hard to spot because these employees are like sleepwalkers who appear to be awake but their spirits are sound asleep. Managers can’t call them out on bad behaviour because they are not overtly breaking rules or screwing up.
- Actively disengaged employees are chronically unhappy and frustrated at work. We say ‘actively’ disengaged because they are active in negative ways. These are the ones who undermine, intentionally or not, the progress of others and drag down the entire workplace atmosphere to their level. It becomes easy for others who are disengaged to be negatively influenced by these folks, and difficult for the engaged workers to constantly compensate for their underperformance and toxic energy. The damage they do to an organization is more insidious because you can’t really put your finger on the problem or its source so it is hard to correct. Like an invisible, odorless toxic substance that slowly seeps into the culture, from person to person, rendering themselves and those around them to be burdens to the organization. They do as much damage as would a flu epidemic that sent everyone home to bed for an indefinite period of time.
I have never met a business owner who did not expect employees to be engaged, who was not baffled by the attitude of the disengaged and resentful of the actively disengaged. My vantage point as the coach allows me to see that the boss blames the disengaged, and the disengaged, like David, blame the boss.
Where does the journey to improved employee engagement begin? The first step is to ask yourself some powerful questions:
- How many of my employees are driving my company forward?
- How many are a stagnant force?
- How many are harming my business through active disengagement?
- What am I going to do to correct this situation?
The right question at the right time can be a mighty thing. These questions may inspire you, propel you to action or may serve as a switch that will shed light onto a solution that has been eluding you.
The importance of employee engagement, why it is missing from many companies and how to achieve it are issues that I have been observing for most of my career. Writing about my years of practice, fact-finding missions and observation, I am now very pleased to share my latest blog series on employee engagement, what it means and how to achieve it:
Reach out to your executive coach to help you be the leader you need to be to build the workforce who will achieve your company goals. If you don’t have a coach, visit The International Coach Federation’s database of coaches to search for one, or, book a call with me and it will be my pleasure to speak with you. See my real-time availability here and reserve time with me: http://www.calendly.com/corry-1
If this, or any of my posts, strikes a chord with you, please leave your opinion or share your own story.