Sep 2002 Issue
DEALING WITH DISSATISFIED WORKERS
About six months ago, a Gallup poll taken with 1000 workers aged 18 - 54 years of age here in Singapore unearthed a disturbing attitude amongst workers ( ranging from factory workers to executives ). These are the CAVE dwellers, so dubbed - workers who were Consistently Against Virtually Everything
They may form just 12 per cent of the Singapore work force but cost the economy an estimated S$5.4 billion each year in loss of productivity. Described as typically 'disenchanted and disaffected with their jobs and often voice their negative attitudes to their work and employer'. Only 4 per cent of workers could be described as 'builders'. This rare breed are workers with 'passion, drive, innovation'. They perform at high levels and are characteristically loyal, productive and satisfied with their jobs. The rest of the workers between these two extremes were 'disengaged' from their work and looking to leave at the slightest advantage elsewhere.
There are FOUR methods to help address these troubling findings with worker dissatisfaction:
1) Engage True Leaders
What are true leaders? The biggest problem with corporate life is that people often assume positions of power by their titles, rank or seniority, rather than earning this respect. In that vein, managers and leaders thus have to be first picked by management on their ability to lead and inspire. They then must engage their subordinates to address what can be changed for the better and avoid being sucked into endless circular arguments about changing things beyond their immediate control. Leading by example and working above and beyond what is required will help in this respect.
After our first failed attempt on the summit of Mt Everest on May 19, 1998, we had 12 days left on our permit issued to climb the peak ( including days to strip down the campsites high on the mountain ). We could not control this issue. Neither could we control the weather. Instead, we focused on what resources we had left or could acquire and made a 2nd attempt on May 25th. This was successful, largely because we focused on what manpower we had and resources we could control.
I used to work in an organisation where some of the top corporate leaders would be often missing from the office playing golf . Golf is a great network builder and a lubricant to seal deals. But if the workers arent being informed ( even generally ) as to what the MD is doing, how does this inspire confidence?
2) Honour the Team
Much worker dissatisfaction comes from a lack of recognition for what they have achieved. Yearly assessments are too infrequent. There should be intermediate rewards, bonuses, days off ( get creative ) to recognise, reward and boost office morale. Some who get the thin end of the wedge are the support staff, those working the less glamorous but necessary jobs. Find ways to retain their support and honour the team!
3) Leading Up
Too many bosses think that leadership is mainly about delegation and setting examples. There is more. Think about leading up. Seek views from all stakeholders before a major decision is made. Leaders should listen, really listen to the frontline staff and the incorporate the best views into the plan. As an employee (at any level ) if we fail to leadup when our leaders are charging to the brink, we are failing to exercise our own self-leadership. Finally, credit those great ideas to their creators.
On the first summit attempt on Mt Everest, Edwin Siew was not on the list of the summit party of five. He was arguably the fittest, but the least experienced and had never climbed above 7400m at that stage. An argument was raised for his inclusion as a backup member at the last minute and he did go, despite my reservations. At the 6500m camp, I cracked 2 ribs and was put out of action. Edwin filling the 5th slot was the logical option. Ultimately, he became the first climber from Singapore to summit the 8850m peak. History would have been different if my team members had not the courage to lead up when the situation required it
4) Drive the Workers to be Performers
If those 12% of disaffected workers are difficult to change, focus limited resources in making the bulk of the team or workforce into a better one. Shift gears to turn them into performers. Find out their core company values and desires. Some wish to be heard more, some wish bigger monetary incentives, some want more proprietorship. Do a survey, have the courage to announce the results and what concrete steps would be taken to meet those worker needs. Set big target and match these with big rewards.