Monday, August 22, 2005

Middle Management Martyr Syndrome

I’ve been thinking a lot about employee disengagement as it relates to toxic leadership within organizations and I’m curious about how the 2004 Gallup statistics (see later in this post for an excerpt) might be playing out one year later.

I’m more compelled than ever to get to work directly with employee efforts thanks to two episodes of toxic leadership I’ve witnessed first-hand in the past month with clients. I know what the statistics say, but it’s so much more amazing to see it live and in person. However, I don’t think the two episodes I witnessed reflect the Gallup statistics. What I witnessed was toxic leadership and employee engagement DESPITE (or maybe IN SPITE OF) the leadership.

What would keep employees engaged despite the best efforts of leadership to turn them into money grubbing, stock price watching, bottom line- (and leader behind-) protecting automatons? Maybe it’s a North Dakota thing, or maybe the leadership hadn’t poisoned the employees yet, but the toxicity I witnessed was alive and, unfortunately, well in these two cases.

In both cases the employees I'm working with have a passion for their fellow employees and co-workers. In each case my clients are not top-level executives, but second-tier managers who are beaten down by the top echelon, yet do their best to stay inspired because they care about the employees they directly impact.

What is this phenomenon called? Middle Manager Martyr Syndrome? Minnesota/North Dakota Nice Syndrome? I'm so grateful to see these types of selfless managers within the toxic environments; however, I'm not sure how long we can keep limping along, treating the symptoms (effects) instead of the root cause. Any ideas?

Here’s the Gallup information.

The Gallup Management Journal's semi-annual Employee Engagement Index puts the current percentage of employees who are actively disengaged at 17%. That’s about 22.5 million US workers. Gallup defines actively disengaged as employees who are not just unhappy in their work, but who are busy acting out their unhappiness by undermining what their engaged co-workers accomplish. Each one of these angry and alienated workers is causing their employers roughly $13k in yearly productivity losses on average. Think this is bad? It gets worse.

A majority of workers (54%) falls into the "not engaged" category. Not engaged workers are defined as “checked out,” putting in time but not energy or passion into their work. Look around you. Chances are every other person you see is on autopilot. Only 29% of workers are estimated by Gallup to be truly "engaged" – i.e., employees that “work with passion and who feel a profound connection to their company.”

These first two numbers add up to a whopping seventy-one percent of workers that are in cruise control and active sabotage mode.


At 8:58 PM, Blogger Phil Gerbyshak said...

Wow! 17% are actively DIS-engaged? That means if you have 5 people on your team, 1 of them is probably not interested in what she/he is doing?

As a manager, this is sad news. Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise to me. I see this all the time, with people waiting for the economy to pick up so they can move on to "something better."

The thing is, I don't think this is any different from our parents generation, except we're not getting fat pensions to stick around for 30+ years...We're just doing surveys and finding out the truth.

My hope is that my generation (the currently 28-40 year olds) reach the top and make work challenging enough to stop the tide.

Either that, or we've got to stop doing these Gallup surveys. They depress me.

At 5:02 AM, Blogger Jodee said...

Despite the depressing reality of the Gallup polls, I'm encouraged that at least this stuff is getting out in the open. As you say, Phil, in our parents' generation it probably wasn't much different, but nobody talked about it then.

If we realize the reality of the situation, then we can deal with it. Either we accept the fact that our employees are just putting in their time "until something better comes along" or we do something about the statistic. That means we actually have to get to know our employees (horrors! We may have to ask some questions! We may actually have to CARE about them!).

I see all kinds of opportunities in that scenario or I wouldn't be doing the work I'm doing with individuals and organizations.

Thanks, as always, for your insightful comments. You're a manager I'd want to work for!


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