Are You Still Paying for Apathy?

January 23rd, 2016

Are you buying apathy from your employees? I don’t mean are you “buying” it – as in accepting that employees have a right to be and actually are apathetic about something. I mean, are you buying it – as in paying good money to your employees in exchange for their apathy?

Some research organizations put employee disengagement at up to 70%!1 While that number is often debated, three things are true. One, even if the correct number is only half the stated statistic, it means that about four out of every ten of your team members is not engaged in their job or your business. Two, the problem of a disengaged worker is at least 50% a leadership problem; and, three, disengagement is expensive.

At one extreme, workplace shootings are often perpetrated by people who have become not only disengaged but completely disenfranchised and are seeking meaning or release through violent or criminal means. Less obviously, recent studies have quantified the number for small businesses as over $2,000 per year per disengaged employee.2

Most people agree that employee engagement reduces turnover and absenteeism and increases creativity, problem-solving and discretionary effort. Did you know, however, that increased employee engagement can positively impact employee mental health… which can positively impact subsequent engagement… and so on?3

The first step to improving engagement is to take a look at company culture. Every company has a culture – but is it deliberate and is it the one you, as a leader, intend? Regardless of what your vision and mission statements say, consider these questions:

1. Where do you have the biggest problems with motivation and discipline? Does it require rules and write ups to get people to do the right thing?

2. When is the last time you did an anonymous survey to ask employees their opinions about the most important things in the company?

3. How often does your management team talk about what kind of culture is needed in your industry and organization to get the operational results you need? And how often do you take deliberate steps to shape your culture?

4. If someone was behaving in an unusual or negative way, how would the people in your company respond? Would anyone notice?

Once you have the answers (or at least a start) to these questions, it’s time to create an action plan to shape the culture you need. In my practice, we created the FEELTM (Five Essentials of Exceptional Leaders) approach to leadership concerns, and the first essential is to “create a vision” of the culture you want to have. What does it look like? How do people behave? Where does productive work happen? And, most importantly, how will I know that we have attained that culture?

Getting the answers to these questions early in 2016 – and then acting on them – just might get you to stop signing big checks for apathy and cashing ones for engagement instead.

The new year is a natural time to take stock of the current situation and create a plan to move things forward. I find the compensation budget goes a lot further in satisfying employees with a robust company culture on the side.