For the first time in my professional life, I was well and truly disengaged.
For the first time I really didn’t care about the company I worked for or what my boss wanted of me. The only thing I cared about was my co-workers. They were the only thing that kept me going to work, taking meetings, and completing tasks. And they were the only reason the letter of resignation that waited in my personal folder took a bit to deliver.
Ironically, I’m the person in our company who worked on engagement. I’m the one who trained others on how to collaborate with their team members and make the workplace somewhere they wanted to be. In my courses, I talked about having conversations with employees and listening to what they have to say. I talked about developing relationships and learning what’s important to them, both inside and outside of work. And I talked about respecting what team members bring to the table—knowledge, skills, abilities (i.e. the reasons they were hired in the first place). How interesting, then, that I was on the receiving end of this stick.
How did I get to this place? Bear with me… there’s a bit of a story.
If you know me at all, or have seen any of my recent posts, you’ll know I’ve written a book about employee engagement and retention. In this book I present stories of employees who have left their companies because of how they were treated by their bosses. Each of the stories is different, but the overarching theme is a lack of respect for who they are and what they bring to the table. And now I have a story to add.
I was told I had to take on a role that I really did not want to do. It’s a junior role and something that I didn’t think was right, from an organisational management standpoint. It was also clear the role would not have been temporary (in spite of what I was told), but would continue on for the forseeable future and would impact career progression. It’s not so much that I would have had to do the role. Rather, it’s that all my programs (about which I’m passionate) had been cancelled, for the foreseeable future, behind my back. It was about everything I loved being unimportant. It was about being made to feel what I put my heart and soul into is not necessary. When you are passionate about something, and you pour your all into it, that’s tantamount to saying you are unimportant and unnecessary. That’s how I felt—unimportant and unvalued.
One of the key sections in my book is about the need for managers to be considerate of their employees’ thoughts, ideas, strengths, and—yes—feelings. If a manager has a relationship with their people, then they will know what makes them tick, what they’re passionate about, and what drives them. They will understand how personal their team members’ work is to them and how negating it in this way also negates the team members themselves. They will appreciate what those team members contribute to the organization and seek ideas for the problems that have arisen versus imposing positions with a too-bad-so-sad, my-way-or-the-highway attitude.
Had I been consulted ahead of time, I could easily have come up with alternatives. In fact, I did come up with several alternative solutions. However, by that time my manager was resolved and so married to the decision there was no swaying him. I was left in an impossible situation with a decision to make … do I quit? Do I stay? Or do I quit and stay, doing my work halfheartedly at best? Regardless of the option I chose, I became a fully disengaged employee. And it felt awful.
I know there are times when managers have to make tough decisions. However, it makes no sense not to tap into the knowledge of the people on their teams who might offer alternatives never considered, but entirely workable, and maybe even better. Simply talk to the team members who put their all into their work every day. Brainstorm options, consider ideas, and, above all, listen to what they have to say. This is especially true for those who will be most impacted by the decisions. Do this before making the decision, and consider carefully all options. Then, once the decision has been made, explain exactly why it has to be that way. Simply saying the equivalent of “Because I said so” is not showing respect to the talents of the people on the team.
Remember, employees always have a choice. That went for me as well. My choice was to quit. Too bad.