Performance Management Blog

Workplace Motivation – “I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever…”
PMC icon for the "I QUIT" article and theme

I Quit! Nevermind. Whatever… is my anchor point for what seems to happen often in the workplace. It may be a sudden thing, where the pin hits the balloon and the worker finally snaps and decides that they are quitting — but often, before actually leaving, they will placehold their current work as they will look for another job. Or, it may simply be that the person burns out, gets totally blase about things and just does not care to try very hard anymore. Then, they will simply work to meet minimal expectations.

What I will do herein is highlight some of the key points about how to engage the dis-engaged or to accomplish what can be talked about as Engagimentation. Realize that the reality of many looks something like this:

PMC icon for the "I QUIT" article and theme

We can start with how it all starts, with a statement of how things are working:

Imagine a workplace with an environment of personal trust and respect

Yeah, just imagine that! Let me know if you actually find one of those because they would be a good role model for the rest of them. I can imagine that things work pretty well there and that they are profitable. It is a nice thought. But research shows that it is far from the average workplace of today,  where surveys consistently show the majority of people as dis-engaged and only casually involved. Surveys of managers show that many think that people would be happy to just have a job (and they are); but happiness with being employed does NOT translate into productivity and performance results.

Stats show 85% of employees report their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job (from Sirota Survey Intelligence) and 49% of workers say they constantly have their antennae out for new job opportunities — even when they are happy in their current position. Few feel their current employer is giving them a fair deal in terms of advancement opportunities (Kelly survey). (Interesting to see data from 2012 be so relevant today — many things have NOT changed when it comes to the average workforce!)

We start with an energetic, positive and committed new hire who becomes one of those people who simply disappear and are working to simply get by and noticing if something better might come their way. Focused on meeting the minimally-acceptable standards of productivity and quality, they seem no longer much interested in much. They are not the first person you call on when something needs to get done. And there are a lot of them in most workplaces.

There are a series of statistics that back up the basic idea that the majority of people in the workplace are simply choosing to underperform because they are just not “into it.” They are not bad employees, they are just not giving what they could and it shows up in a variety of ways. Think of them as: Average. Middle. Muddling. Mundane. Un-exceptional. Un-engaged.

Some Common Situation Causal Factors could include:

  • Being Restrained: One area of concern is around the mis-fit of policies, procedures, rules and regulations. They may become frustrated because they are restrained in how they accomplish things. They might want to be more helpful to customers or they may see possibilities of improvement that are either rejected as ideas or simply brushed aside.
  • Being Ignored: They may simply feel that they are ignored. They might not have feedback systems that provide effective information about their performance and those results may be invisible, in their opinions, to their management team. They might feel that they need training (or they are sent off to training for no apparent reason). And when they do extend forward, no one notices or comments; it changes nothing.
  • Not on the Team: Or, they may feel as though they are not part of the team or the in-crowd. People at the margins tend to become marginal. As part of a team, they often feel that their efforts contribute to the overall good. But with no sense of such involvement, they tend to become less involved, quickly.
  • Accidental Adversaries: Another factor was discussed by Peter Senge in his work on learning organizations and involved a series of small negative events that, in the bigger overall situation, would become more and more annoying over time. Repetitive small “pinches” could eventually be disruptive. There was not one event or one thing, just a bunch of little things that added up. It should not be surprising that these loops could be common between workers or between an individual and a supervisor and that, left unattended, they underpin a motivational problem.
  • Punishment, defined as a negative consequence that occurs following some behavior, is another issue in many workplaces. We are not talking “public disgrace” here or corporeal punishment; we are more often talking about little comments or perceived slights or the threat of negative consequences that could occur in response to behaviors.

When people are strictly following policies, procedures, rules and regulations, they will not be productive. (Yes there are situations like safety where strict compliance is important, but less so for customer service, manufacturing or similar kinds of activities). In fact, most work slowdowns are anchored in people following things overly precisely and carefully.


What do we do? How do we motivate these people?

Re-engage them. And understand that this will take time and effort. You cannot do this to them, but you can do it with them. Change and improvement take time, but the capability is there. Remember that, “Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled” (Frank Navran) and that you need to build your base moving forward.

Re-frame the solution into the simple context of Dis-Un-Engagement. This is the process of working with them to identify the things that are unengaging them and do things to remove those factor, in reality and in the perception of reality. The key is to be seen doing things differently. (I am not talking about faking it; I refer to the reality that many beliefs they might have are simply not true but if they feel that they have some control, these factors become less important.)

Dis-Un-Engaging is re-motivating by de-un-motivating!

Identify the past and present things that are currently un-engaging people and use facilitation and teamwork to identify those factors and issues that can be changed, added or reduced that will help to eliminate or minimize these performance issues and change the culture.

Actually, this is really straightforward and accomplished by:

  • removing the perceived (common) or actual (sometimes) things that are un-engaging people and teams, you serve the purpose of re-engaging and re-energizing them;
  • facilitating, you generate active involvement. You lead and engage;
  • creating a new sense of vision and mission about the future;
  • using teams to solve problems, you build the teamwork support, energy and resources needed to supply the peer pressure to improve and sustain.

Many believe that this is all there is to motivation:

How many managers view the two ways to motivate people, rewards and punishments

There are always threads in my LinkedIn groups focused on the above. Many organizations try to control people’s behaviors extrinsically, a highly difficult process fraught with all sorts of potential negative side effects. Money works, but there is a continuous need to increase its amounts to get the same results over time, and you will get a lot of competitive responses between people that have negative side effects and interfere with teamwork. Plus, extrinsic incentives will only motivate the top performers, in most situations.

In B, we will get performance. But it will be compliance-focused and not exceptional. And, do NOT turn your back, since various kinds of retribution and sabotage are common.

Recognize this simple reality:  People WANT to succeed.
We simply have to help them come back in and re-engage.

You can start with something easy like this:

Visioning - what did we do in the present that gave us great results in the future?

And simply listen for how people want their workplace to be. They will talk about the different problems that were fixed and the way they were engaged and involved to fix things.

After that works and you get a grip on the kinds of things that are seen as issues, you can help define how things work and get after those things that need improvement. Our approach has always been to ask for issues and opportunities using our Square Wheels illustration toolkits:

the main question about how the image represents how organizations really work.

But there are lots of things you can do and how you can do them. My approach is to use the above and then get them thinking like this:

A Square Wheels image called "intrinsic motivation."

We want the group to feel like they understand the issues and can deal with them effectively. The key is to implement some improvements and possibly use teams to help with that process. Do things differently! Success makes Continued Success more likely.

Engagimentation is engagement plus implementation.

Don’t just have more surveys and more discussions. Involve and engage the people in the organization — especially those in the middle — to improve performance results of all kinds.

You can find a 3-minute video on my YouTube page that explains the concepts around coaching and improving average performance and the idea of moving the overall performance curve to improve results at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cohrhcYpDCk

Addendum – There is a really interesting “I Quit” letter going around, reportedly from a woman auditor who quits PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) because of people, structure, culture, and job growth. She pulls no punches. You can find that, with a long series of comments from other people, at http://gawker.com/this-is-the-best-i-quit-email-youll-read-all-week-1467082884

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools.
Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.


Here is a 2-minute overview of the new virtual team building game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6gDtZymwk

logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition

Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com and a detailed profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman/ -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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