“When you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”
Comanche Indian wisdom
Some years ago, when my daughter was about six years of age, she answered the phone. Someone was calling, saying they had an important message for Dr. Zimmerman. With her most polite manner, she responded, “I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.”
When she later told me about the call, she was so proud of herself … for handling the call like an adult. Of course, I had to praise her for that, but I also had to gently explain that I was Dr. Zimmerman.
She looked confused. She never saw me wear a white lab coat and never saw a stethoscope around my neck. So I explained that kind of doctor helps you when your body gets sick. I was the kind of doctor that helps companies get better.
I’m not sure she understood my point, but that’s what I do. I help organizations — and the people in those organizations — become more vibrant, healthy, positive, and productive.
And in my 25 years of professional speaking, I’ve never seen a time when these skills are more needed than right now. Challenges in the economy and the frantic pace of change are causing more stress, dysfunction, and negativity than most people can handle or want to handle.
So today, I encourage you to read my list of “The Sickly 9’s.” See how many of these things are happening in your workplace. And if you see 3 or more of these things taking place in your organization, you’re probably not very happy at work. And your workplace is in need of renewal and rejuvenation.
1. Frequent complaints
Coworkers trash-talk their company, their team mates, their leaders, products, and customers. They tell their coworkers in the company … and they tell their friends, relatives, and acquaintances outside the company … how bad things are. And they do over and over again.
2. Overwhelmed feelings
No matter how hard you work or how fast you work, you never even come close to getting everything done. It just seems like you’ve always got too much work and too little time. So you’re forced to make one of two unhealthy choices: to either let some work go or let some work get done more poorly than you would like.
In many organizations, the number one job complaint is … “You can do a hundred things right and not hear a darn thing about it. You do one thing wrong and they’re right on your back.”
And that, of course, is one of the worst possible ways to manage or motivate a workforce. Employees at all levels need to know that other people have noticed their good work and have commented on it. Without verbalized appreciation, feelings of “what’s the point” and “why bother” start to take over.
Eric Harvey and Steven Ventura talk about the need for appreciation and recognition by going inside the employee’s head. As they say in their book, “Walk Awhile In My Shoes, ” the average employee thinks something like this: “I’ve been known to say, ‘I don’t want any pats on the back — just put it my check.’ Well, don’t believe it. It’s a crock! Regardless of how I may act, I do care a great deal what you and others think of me and what I do. Recognition is important to me. That’s why I wear award pins, belt buckles, and the like; that’s why I display trophies in my home; that’s why I hang certificates on my wall.”
“Believe it or not, I’m looking for more from this job than just a paycheck. There’s got to be more, ’cause I’m sure not gonna get rich on what I make! What do I want? I want to feel good about myself and the work I do; I want to feel like I really am an important part of this organization. And I tend to gauge my self-worth by others’ perceptions. I often see myself through your eyes.”
“I don’t expect you to see me as a top-notch performer all the time. But I do expect to be periodically recognized when I either go above and beyond the call of duty or just maintain good, solid performance over a long period of time. And the more you recognize my good work, the more good work I want to do. It’s funny the way that works. I think it’s all part of human nature.”
That’s what you call it when your body is at work but your mind isn’t Your original gung-ho commitment to the organization has slipped away. So you’re spending more and more time daydreaming at work … escaping to such activities as personal phone calls, the Internet, the coffee room, the rest room, or a host of other non-job related activities.
Of course, your disengagement was probably caused by several things. Your organization may have gone through a huge amount of change but didn’t give you any training to cope with the change. So you feel less confident of your abilities. Or the disengagement may have come about because your organization never bothered to learn your strengths or tap into your strengths.
Whatever the case, it’s kind of like the boss who yelled at his tardy, disengaged employee. The boss yelled, “You should have been here at 8:00!” To which the employee replied, “Really? What happened at 8:00?”
Somehow or other, the coworkers don’t connect. They may not like each other, so they treat each other with disdain at worst and tolerance at best. Or they may not trust each other because of some misstep in the past that has never been acknowledged, rectified, or forgiven.
After a while, this becomes a two-way street. Coworkers don’t give much support and encouragement to others, and they don’t receive much support and encouragement from others. It’s pretty much every man for himself.
6. Belittled change
In this kind of work environment, the innovators get put down. When they bring up a new idea or suggest a better way of doing something, they get teased, criticized, attacked, or laughed at. So the innovators soon learn that “getting-by performance” is safer than being an advocate for change and continuous improvement.
7. Hoarded information
This is a sick little game that goes back to childhood. I’m sure you remember it … when some other kid taunted you by saying, “I know something you don’t.” It didn’t feel good. You felt left out and somewhat powerless.
Well the same thing happens today in many work environments. Some people withhold information from others because they know that knowledge is power. And they only share their information when it suits their purposes.
In fact, many employees believe their managers know a lot more about the business than they’re telling. And many managers take the parental, “they don’t need to know” approach when it comes to company information. It’s a set-up for conflict.
No matter how you rationalize it, don’t “protect” each other from so-called bad news. In a healthy work environment, everyone is treated like an adult. And even though adults don’t like to hear bad news, it’s better than being left in the dark and assuming the worst.
8. Selfish priorities
Instead of putting “customers first” or “quality first,” some employees live by the “me first” motto. They’re always asking “what’s in it for me” before they extend themselves. So they meet their coworkers’ or customers’ needs when they feel like it … rather than when it is needed. They try to look busy when they’re not. And they give out rewards and recognition on the basis of selfish political gain.
And finally, in unhealthy work situations, you’ll notice too many…
9. No-win situations
Harvey and Ventura describe these as situations … that no matter what you do … you’re wrong. You get punished.
Inside the employee’s head, they say there’s a dialogue that goes something like this: “The plain fact is that there are times when I do what I’m supposed to do, and BOOM, I get nailed for it.”
“Sometimes you suggest I do things like ‘show more initiative instead of waiting to be told everything.’ So I give it a try. I take the bull by the horns. But it turns out bad. What happens? You get on my case for not checking with you first! BOOM, I lose.”
“Then there are times when I get punished for good performance. I bust my tail and do a good job handling rough tasks or problems, while some of my peers are goofing off or doing just enough to get by. So what happens the next time there’s a tough job? I get stuck with it. BOOM, I lose again. And, if I happen to screw up that next tough job? You guessed it: BOOM!”
If employees experience too many of these no-win situations, they’ll stop trying to win. And then BOOM, everybody loses.
As I mentioned above, if you’re seeing 3 or more of these behaviors at work, you need to do something about it … because every one of these behaviors is costing you a great deal of time, money, and energy. It’s time to take a serious look at my program on “Staying Up In A Down World: Keys To A Positive Work Environment.”
Action: Ask everyone in your department to look at this list of “The Sickly 9’s” and ask them to point out the 3 they see most often.