JK Team

Ugly moments in employee engagement

Greece is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world with millions of visitors who can confirm this viewpoint. Yet imagine their surprise and disappointment if they are greeted as I was by the scene in this photograph. It serves as a stark reminder that you can experience an ugly moment in any place.

So how in the world does this apply to employee engagement?

Consider brand-new employees. Excited about being hired, they arrive at work with hopes and dreams for the future. Perhaps this will be the place where they make a real difference!

Then it happens. Their manager demonstrates “ugly” behavior by doing or saying things the employee perceives as being undesirable, intentional and habitual. Unlike “bad” behavior, the employee will feel these adverse actions are done with deliberation and malicious intent.

Over time, “ugly” managerial behavior leads to actively disengaged employees. Ever wonder why a great applicant or top performer suddenly seems sullen, angry or lackluster? Or, perhaps are you wondering why someone is consistently making others miserable (ex. insubordination to a manager or undermining a co-worker)? While there are many possible root causes for unhappiness at work, ugly behavior often plays a part.

It was an ugly moment …but this manager turned it around.

While visiting Belize, I was with a tour group where all of my traveling companions were greeted by armed guards wielding hefty firearms. The whole group was ready to run for the hills! While the guards intended no harm (i.e. they were there for our protection), the groups’ perception was much different and the emotional damage was intense.

I stomped over to the front desk quite angry and was given a feedback card by an employee. I was sure it would be overlooked or I would receive a form letter in reply. Thankfully, the customer service manager spotted me scrawling my feedback with gusto and literally said to me, “This looks juicy!”

At first, I was taken aback by her words. Then I realized she was trying to break the tension without knowing the seriousness of my complaint. To my surprise, I relaxed and shared my experience with her very openly and honestly. She responded with such genuine concern that I immediately understood she was on my side. Within minutes, she apologized and addressed the issue with her team – not only for me but also for my traveling companions. To this day, I still hold her and her company in high regard, even though the whole experience was quite a fiasco.

From this moment in time, I realized that almost any situation can be turned around with the right attitude by a manager IF they are willing to listen, respond in empathy and not shy away from tough feedback.

I encourage you to be aware of the most common “ugly” managerial behaviors listed below:

Birds That Are NOT of Paradise: Seagull managers fly by employees’ desks and drop off a load of work (usually tasks that are exceptionally unpleasant). Perched managers are just the opposite – looking over employees’ shoulders all the time and rarely disappearing (even outside of working hours).

Confusion: When employees invest significant time and effort into a project, the last thing they want to hear from their managers is “We don’t need that” or “You have to start again from scratch (i.e. mind changers).” Managers who do this are inadvertently training employees to doubt their directives and to procrastinate task completion at all costs.

Broken Pieces: Managers will lose employee confidence and trust if they break their word to employees on key priorities (ex. sharing confidential employee information or failing to keep their word). It will be challenging to rebuild the relationship.

Bad Attitudes: Employees will dread working with managers who perpetually relay negative emotions and moods – including but not limited to general rudeness (never saying hello), condescension (treating employee as if they are “less than”), bursts of anger and/or ongoing pessimism (towards people or projects).

Undermining: When the actively disengaged employee is a manager, the potential for undermining behavior towards subordinates increases. These situations are some of the worst. Employees should be able to trust their immediate managers above all others at work. When the managers’ actions instill fear and/or anxiety in employees, consequences to the employees’ morale can be devastating.

On a “Good” Note

If all this ugly behavior makes you feel anxious or sad, then remind yourself of ways that you can bring positivity to your workplace. Be an agent of change for the better. And join me next time when we look at “The Good”!

(Note: For a broader discussion of employee engagement, see The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.)