What Makes Workplaces Miserable?

It’s been known for a fairly long time now that the number one reason why an employee becomes de-motivated enough to leave (or want to leave) an organisation is the quality of relationship they have with their manager.

Interestingly, this mirrors in different cultures around the world, which leads us to believe that we are talking about a human problem and a trap for all to fall into.

In whatever company, culture or country, staff attrition cost vast sums of money. This doesn’t consider the other negative impact costs, should someone decide to stay in the workplace despite feeling miserable.

Low levels of engagement are seen in the UK and in our US counterparts

A few years ago, Gallup held discussions with the UK Government about the low numbers of employees that felt they were really engaged in their work or who they were working for. Gallup suggested to the government that the 75% of UK workers who aren’t engaged, are as big a threat to our economy as the global downturn.

In the US, it is a similar picture in which the US Congress has focused on the subject of miserable employees and more specifically, the record-low engagement of employees in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The difficulty the DHS have is they thought it best to spend time and money ‘training’ managers and supervisors, based on the belief that staff were miserable due to a poor work-life balance, pay or other issues.

Research reveals

This appears misguided when you consider Gallup’s decades of research on management. Around 60% of employees in government organisations tell us they don’t clearly know what’s expected of them at work. This gets closer to the core of the problem.

To put it another way, if only leaders can create a working climate in which people have a clear purpose and a lot of fun, miraculously these levels of disengagement and de-motivation don’t occur.

Who is engaged?

See examples of this in the UK with companies such as First Direct and LV and in the US, Wells Fargo. A far cry from those private and public sector ‘elephants’ who don’t seem to be able to grasp what’s required at leadership and management levels. Poor leaders and managers, whose strengths don’t lie within human relationship, create miserable places to work.

Gallup researchers discovered there actually is a silver lining: find the right manager

Their not so ‘shock horror’ discovery is that absolutely nothing fixes the problems caused by a manager who has no talent for people and relationship. Solutions come when employers understand that the art of supervising and managing in the new millennium is closer to being a coach than to being a boss.

To predict an employee’s engagement, the single most important question you can ask is, “does your leadership care about your development?” (Regarding hopes, aspirations, dreams, progression, growth and the feelings that surround these.)

Some managers mirror leaders that don’t know how to care for staff engagement and who don’t know how to connect emotionally – so the culture and climate defaults to being one of disengaged.

Misunderstanding culture and climate

Culture is how things get done. If the leaders create a culture that is biased towards tasks, processes, knowledge, targets (and not the journey to the target) and one-upmanship, there won’t be staff engagement and therefore customer engagement will suffer.

Climate is the way people feel in the day to day. One interesting test is how much people temporarily enjoy their workplace when the manager or leader isn’t in the business!

The sad truth…

…Is until employers take the testing, selection and development of leaders and managers seriously, promoting those who can authentically develop people, they will continue to build factories of disengaged, miserable employees.

For further insight, check out this document on employee engagement.

Glenn Bracey

Glenn Bracey

Glenn is the co-founder and inspirational learning and performance director of Future Vision. He is a trainer, coach, conference speaker and passionate advocate of developing learning that makes a tangible difference to your business, its people and customers.

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