What happens when complacency replaces commitment in the workplace? More and more managers are facing an army of workers who have lost their sense of loyalty, enthusiasm, and motivation. While resignation is the next logical step, these employees have not quit their jobs technically but merely go through the motions, leaving managers with workers who do the minimum required but continue to collect a salary and benefits. In the arena of small and mid-sized business this drain can mean lower profits, compromised productivity, substandard customer service, and contamination of an entire labor pool. These workers have come to be known as “disengaged workers” by Human Resource professionals.
Disengaged workers can mean life or death to a small business that is dependent on their employees to generate the goodwill among customers vital to survive in a competitive environment. Managers who find themselves in this wasteland of clock watchers and malcontents often need only look to themselves for causes and solutions.
Workers often become disengaged because of management practices that create confusion and disharmony rather than empowerment and confidence. Communication between workers in a small business is often characterized by casual rumor and gossip and managers who loose their professional perspective and feed the water cooler mill are usually their own worst enemies.
Managers who participate in workplace gossip, betray confidences, and violate employee’s confidentiality create an environment ripe for employee disillusionment. When managers sacrifice professional neutrality for a sense of camaraderie, employees are thrown into a “no man’s land” where roles are confused, lines of authority are unclear, and a general lack of respect for established protocols become commonplace. In these moments when managers indulge in criticisms of employee conduct, personal life, performance, appearance, and other casual comments to workers, the recipients of these comments are well on their way to becoming disengaged workers.
It is hard to believe that managers would behave in such dangerous and damaging practices but the small business environment is frequently a hotbed for such conduct. Workers spend 8 or more hours a day together in a physically moderate space that lends little opportunity for privacy and managers mistakenly take the approach that familiarity will bring them closer to their staffs. Familiarity, as the saying goes, often breeds contempt.
Workers who hear their conduct criticized, their choices questioned, being made the butt of jokes from the indirect source of workplace gossip often give up any emotional commitment to their jobs and employers. Financial reasons keep them punching the time clock but their hearts and minds are far from where they spend their working hours. Such workers become depressed and angry at betrayal from the very person to whom they owe their respect. Disengaged workers feel helpless to redress their grievances because who do they complain to and will these sensitive topics merely become more fodder for the rumor mill. The end result is a group of employees at each others throats with no established means to air and resolve their wounded egos and bruised feelings.
Managers who avoid such casual familiarity and maintain the professional distance their position requires can avoid laying the seeds of a disengaged workforce. Working relationships in a small business are fragile and tenuous at best. Managers can foster solid relationships by simply being the boss. In large companies where personnel policies and protocols are written and enforced, mangers can avoid these pitfalls more easily. In the world of small businesses, mangers must depend on themselves and their own sense of perspective to give their employees someone to look up to, someone to confide in with confidence, and someone to keep the “water cooler buzz” in check. The end result is a worker who is not distracted by personal concerns and can devote their time and attention exactly where you want them to, the customers and clients who are the lifeblood of your small business.