7 reasons your employees are not that into you

There are reasons why employees have stopped caring about their jobs. The good news is that there are identifiable symptoms—and remedies, too.


Are you frustrated with employees who seem to be more “It’s all about me” than “How can I help my employer?”

Do you wish your employees shared your commitment to your organization’s goals and success? If you can relate, join the club.

Here are seven reasons your employees are not that into you:

1. Employees don’t know what game they’re in, how it’s played, or what the stakes are. The majority of employees don’t understand their employer’s vision, business goals, strategy, brand promise, key initiatives, and marketplace realities, according to a survey of 23,000 employees conducted by Harris Interactive. Their research revealed that only 37 percent of employees understood what their employer was trying to achieve and why.

Stephen Covey translated this sad reality into a soccer analogy. He wrote that if the typical organization were a soccer team, only four of the 11 players on the field would know which goal to shoot at.

Besides compromising their ability to perform well, not knowing the big picture leads to disinterest. How can you get excited about something you know little to nothing about? Reflect on how well leadership communicates your mission and vision in real-life terms, rather than in slogans and platitudes. Think about how much your employees know about:

  • Your business goals;
  • Your key result areas;
  • Your most important initiatives;
  • Your brand promise and brand differentiation;
  • How your business works and how the pieces fit together;
  • Marketplace realities and what that means to your business.

The more they know, the more they are likely to care.

2. Employees don’t know exactly how to make the biggest contribution. Seeing the “big picture” isn’t enough. Employees need to understand how their “small picture” directly affects the “big picture.

In the Harris study, only 20 percent of employees reported having a line of sight between their job and their employer’s goals. Reprising Covey’s soccer analogy, that’s like having only two of the 11 players knowing what position they’re supposed to play and how to play it.

The more your employees know why and how to make a difference, the more they’ll care.

3. You don’t give employees a reason to care about contributing. Knowing what their employer is trying to achieve and how they can help make this happen are not enough. Employees need to care about actually making that contribution.

The issue of caring gets to the heart of employee disengagement. Employers who have employees who don’t care typically relate to their employees very differently from employers who have employees who do care.

Employers with disengaged employees often possess the following characteristics:

  • Leadership does not communicate in inspiring ways about how what the organization does matters in the world.
  • Leadership acts in ways that communicate, “We don’t care about you; we don’t respect you,” so employees reciprocate by not caring about what leadership wants.
  • Employees get worn out from a culture in which mediocrity is tolerated, commitments are not kept, and feedback and requests are ignored.
  • Employees feel their own manager and/or their employer has a “user’s mentality.” Managers demonstrate this by being “all over it” when they want something from their employees, but don’t respond to employee concerns or requests.

4. Managers don’t know how to create an environment that fosters passion, courage, a desire for excellence, and a willingness to go the extra mile. Because they manage in ways that are inconsistent with human nature, they don’t know how to create an intrinsically rewarding work experience that elicits inspired work. Instead, the environment they create fosters beleaguered, resentful, listless prisoners.

5. Employees are set up for the “agony of defeat” rather than the “thrill of victory.” When employees don’t get the tools, training, time, or resources to do their jobs well, they experience the soul-crushing “agony of defeat” day in and day out. With defeat becoming the norm, employees naturally become demoralized. They stop caring and stop trying, or they leave to go to an employer where they can feel the ” thrill of victory.”

Examine how well you prepare new employees to succeed at their jobs, and whether you provide all employees with the tools, training, information, and support they need to do an excellent job and feel the “thrill of victory” on a regular basis.

6. Bad behavior and poor performance go unchallenged. Few aspects of work life poison the work environment like letting disrespectful and dysfunctional behavior challenged. Not only does it damage morale, productivity, and customer service quality, it damages respect for management. Similarly, allowing poor performance—or even mediocre performance—to continue helps drive out the top performers and leaves behind the “C” players.

How strong is your management team, top to bottom, in addressing bad behavior and poor performance? Often, the single most effective thing a manager can do to turn around the emotional climate of her team is to fire the bad apples.

7. Employees feel unappreciated. What we appreciate appreciates. What we take for granted depreciates. When employees feel that the sacrifices they make, the extra effort they put in, and the great job they do are taken for granted, they gradually learn that what they do doesn’t matter. They stop feeling that it matters, so they stop doing it.

Conversely, if you continually recognize, appreciate, and celebrate high performance, small wins, and the behaviors that make your business’s goals and success possible, you’ll get more of those behaviors and more employees who care about you, your organization, and making a valuable contribution.

What to do with this

  • Use the above list as a self-assessment tool to see where you have opportunities to improve.
  • Engage your management team in focused discussion about these seven areas to get their perspective on what areas need the most work.
  • Do focus groups to find out how well employees feel you are doing in these areas and ask for ideas on how you can improve.
  • Identify “bright spots” in your organization -leaders who are already doing a great job in any of the above areas—and use them as teaching stories for the rest of your leadership team.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work. You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannature.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework. A version of this article first appeared on TLNT.com.

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