I was enjoying a pot of English Breakfast tea and working my way through this morning’s newspaper when I found an article that made my blood run cold. According to an article by Ricardo Lopez in the Los Angeles Times, a Gallup poll of 100 million Americans holding full time jobs conducted 2010-2012 found that the majority of workers are not engaged…in fact a surprising percentage hate going to work. Here are the numbers:
- Only 30% of workers are “actively engaged,” i.e., “were engaged, or involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace.”
- 50% are “not engaged,” meaning they are just going through the motions at work and are “checked out.”
- A shocking 30% of workers are “actively disengaged,” i.e, employees who hate going to work, and undermine their companies with their attitude.
As a manager I’ve felt this shift happening, but didn’t realize the numbers were so bad. The days of “lifetime employment” I experienced early in my career–in which I knew I had a job as long as I worked hard and performed well–have vanished, and job security no longer exists, with companies cutting valuable, long-time employees when one quarter’s financials don’t look good. Companies that treat workers like commodities are now reaping what they sow.
I also think generational differences contribute. Older workers whose parents survived the depression were raised with sometimes severe work ethics, eager to work long hours for job security and hopefully to get promoted a few times along the way. Let’s just say today’s 18 year olds have a different attitude about work/life balance, willingness to work long hours, and willingness to put in years of effort in order to be rewarded.
In my book, Lessons Unlearned, I talk about the importance of loving your employees, and how to work with people who have bad attitudes to help them understand, and be empathetic, to the plight of the customer. I realize none of this may be revolutionary, but here are some hints for service management on how to turn around bad attitudes in the workplace.
- Catch ’em doing something right. Today’s managers are usually so overworked they rarely have time to do more than react. I’ve fallen into this trap myself a few times, becoming so busy I let my employees fend for themselves, and only step in when someone messes up. This isn’t good, and sends the message that you are only there to complain and punish. It is critical that you actively look for things employees are doing right, and praise them for it. Positive reinforcement costs nothing and is hugely motivating. If you give frequent, sincere compliments to someone who is actively disengaged, you can really start turning their attitude around.
- Ongoing coaching. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life, and front line customer service is hard. Even the best employee in the world may have a bad day, and spending the day listening to customer problems–and having customers often taking their frustration out on you–can put anyone in a bad mood. I had a part time job once working at the Atlanta Symphony box office ticket line, and I started using the name Hector because when I told someone the front row seats they wanted weren’t available, it was easier to hear, “Hector, you are a worthless piece of ##$$%!!!” 5o times a day than, “John, you are a worthless piece of ##$$%!!!” (And yes, my boss knew about my pseudonym in case someone complained about or complimented Hector.)
- Role play. I’m a big believer in role play, in which you play the angry customers and put your employees through a training scenario. If you can adequately train workers to handle difficult customers, they are able to see past the emotional outburst, and move the interaction forward. I also talk in the book about ways to relieve the stress of angry customers. My favorite is “Magic Slate Therapy” on page 18–check it out!
- Open, honest assessments. I write about how much trouble managers get into when they sugar coat the truth, not giving an honest assessment–particularly to volatile people–usually to avoid conflict, which never gives them an opportunity to learn, grow and change. These days, I think almost the opposite is happening. I’m so sick of policies like “everyone is a 3” and “to us, a 3 rating is good!” which sends me one message: stop over achieving because no one cares. If your policy is “everyone is a 3,” I guarantee you have even higher rates of actively disengaged workers than the Gallup poll suggests.
Are you feeling this shift happening? What are you doing in your company to hire motivated workers, and identify disengaged workers so you can turn them around? Love to hear some insights from the field. And as always, thanks for reading!