It's Expensive!

What flashbacks do you have when you think about your most miserable job ever? There was an NCIS episode where Abby and McGee go back and forth with one another sharing their worst jobs before joining Team Gibbs. It started out with the boring ones and rapidly morphed into the most disgusting ones - but that’s not what I want you to consider right now. I want you to think about that job where you just felt empty; one where you were all but sick to your stomach when the weekend was almost over.

Are you picturing it? Before I completely ruin your day, let’s think about WHY that particular job was so stinking miserable… Was it boring? Was it disgusting? Was the hardest work you’ve ever done? Maybe, but I’m guessing something else was driving the misery factor even higher!

For me, it certainly was one of the most physical jobs I ever had - but that wasn’t the part that sucked the most. It was a combination of slapping up a building with no real sense of pride in the finished product, a group of coworkers that didn’t come close to resembling a cohesive team, and a supervisor that was one of the most intolerable humans I’ve ever been around. Add those things to the physical demands that come with construction, plus the $8 per hour wage, and I think I could make a solid case for it actually costing me money to show up!

But those aren’t the only reasons I think being miserable at work is expensive…

If you’ve hung with me through the process of digging into Why Employee Engagement is Important, Onboarding That Gets Results, or The importance of Organizational Culture, you know that each of those things have a direct, tangible impact on a company’s overall profitability. And while I truly believe we can have an immediate impact on each of those things regardless of where our position falls in the org chart, there are indeed times where our impact only goes so far. That said, we can still play a key role in whether or not the folks on our teams - the ones who work with us the closest - have that sick feeling in their stomachs on Sunday evening or look forward to picking up where they left off the previous week!

Don’t tune me out! I haven’t completely lost my mind… Moving forward here, we’ll work through some things we can each work to avoid as well as some simple steps we can take action on right away to begin building an environment that doesn’t make our team members wanna throw up! And just maybe we’ll eliminate the cost of misery in the process…

I Didn’t Swear at Them, Shouldn’t That Be Enough?

I just referenced how terrible it was to work for one of the most miserable human beings I’ve ever been around. Just in case you think I may have been embellishing it, you’re welcome to reach out to Cindy and ask for the rest of the story that I shared with her recently… If anything, I minimized how little respect everyone working there had for him - and how demoralizing his management style really was.

To give you just a bit more perspective for what I saw and experienced in the year I worked for him, picture Lord Farquad from the Shrek movies (the supervisor was a little fellow) but add in a foul mouth, a temper, and the propensity to bully whoever he deemed to be an easy target. In that crew of six or seven guys, about half had been there since rocks were soft. Those were the supervisor's buddies who did side jobs with him on some weekends (because that wasn’t a conflict of interest at all) and played golf with him on the other weekends. The rest of us were either fresh out of school or relatively new to the trade, and that’s who caught his wrath!

Over time, he singled out the younger or less experienced crew members to be his whipping post until they finally left. I watched it happen with three or four others before he set his sights on me. I’ll spare you the details because I’m not necessarily proud of how I responded to him on any given day, but I’m certain anyone watching it go on didn’t blame me.

With that scenario as a benchmark, it would be fairly easy for you or me to believe working for us would be great! And we’d be spot on, but that’s a really low bar… If we really want to make sure we’re not responsible for our team members being miserable working for us, it’s more than not being an ass!

When Cindy and I provide Strategic Leadership Coaching for some of the folks we work with, especially the ones who are responsible for training their team members, we hear a lot of them talk about learning to be more patient as the individual they’re training learns a new process. In some of those cases, it does indeed start by them just being careful not to curse or yell. Believe me, I get that… And if you have kids or you’ve ever trained someone, I’m guessing you get it too!

But we can’t stop there, although that alone would have been a huge improvement for the guy I mentioned earlier! If we really want to create an environment that doesn’t induce Sunday evening vomiting, we need to do more than just avoiding a demoralizing management style - we need to be very intentional about creating an atmosphere that our team members want to be a part of and one that inspires them to perform.

Believe it or not, this isn’t all that hard. We just need to show them the right signs…

What Signs are You Watching For?

Creating an atmosphere where our team members don’t throw up when they think about working for us involves more than just avoiding the urge to be an insufferable jerk by demoralizing everyone we manage and yelling louder when they don’t heed our every command. There might not be cause to celebrate just because they don’t constantly look like they want to kill us… Having team members who don’t hate the ground we walk on is a good start for a few supervisors and managers I’ve dealt with over the years but that’s still no guarantee those team members aren’t absolutely miserable in what they’re doing.

So what are the signs we need to be watching for that suggest the folks on our teams are miserable? I’ll assume you can spot some of the more obvious ones; anger, constant complaining and arguing, spreading strife throughout the group… While I’m never OK with any of those, they’re not the ones that concern me the most! Quite honestly, those are some of the simplest to deal with since they’re so easy to recognize. The signs that do concern me are the ones that aren’t slapping us in the face on an hourly basis.

Have you ever noticed someone on your team had previously asked a lot of questions and often made suggestions, but stopped doing either somewhere along the line? How about the person who used to jump right in any time there was an issue or a coworker needed a hand, and now they seem content to stay to themselves. And what about the one who was always interacting with the folks around or constantly looking for what could be done next but has grown content with the status quo?

To me, these folks are a far bigger concern! First off, we may not even recognize the changes because it’s been so gradual. Second, those are often folks who have previously been some of our most engaged team members. And third - but certainly not finally - they may have one foot out the door by the time their misery actually impacts their outward behavior. 

I’ve never seen an employee engagement survey or study of any kind that showed actively engaged employees representing more than 35% of a workforce, and most I’ve seen have shown between 20 & 30%. When we consider that the folks I referred to above had likely been in that actively engaged group prior to job misery sinking its ugly claws into them, there’s even more cause for concern!

So what can we do to avoid causing that often invisible misery for our most cherished team members? I believe it boils down to building a positive work environment… And we can do that by showing them a few signs of our own; signs that provide them with immediate and ongoing feedback on their performance and the impact they have on each person they’re serving in the process! We’ll pick up there next time…