With Over 70% of Workers Feeling Disengaged, This is Something We Should All Strive to Understand Better

It is no secret that many employees covertly or overtly hate their boss.  I hear many instances of an employee who feels no fluid communication or connection with their immediate supervisor and instead feels treated like a robot or another piece of office furniture.  It’s easy to feel like the office copier gets better maintenance than an employee does. Think of the resources allocated to maintaining IT infrastructure and how much emphasis is placed on hardware/software in the organization.  A question employees might ask is, “Why is it that when a computer crashes, it’s ‘all hands on deck to fix it, yet when employees are sick, they are expected to come to work?”

It is hard to comprehend why so much investment is made in hardware and software programs, yet no attention is paid to an employee’s psychological being.  What about human software?  The basic frameworks of social technologies such as collaboration, participation, and visible leadership seem to have left the building.  With so much time being spent on technology instead of human needs, you can start to see why people channel this anger and start to hate their boss.

This disconnect between employees and management is, in many ways, the result of leadership who grew up before the Internet.  Now they occupy the majority of upper executive positions and are culturally distanced from a new generation of multimodal communicators who grew up on digital processing.  Leadership, puzzled by the intense transformation that has occurred as a Network society has risen to a global scale, has designed organizations that are still operating by means of decades – even centuries-old business and social theories that are unconscious and firmly established ways of thinking.  After all-what we think is what we do.  But what happens when what we do begins to lose relevancy?

This is the subject matter of recommended reading The Future of Management by Gary Hamel and Bill Breen, which discusses the widening gap between technological 21st Century Internet-enabled business processes and the way organizations are run around the world.  While digital non-natives worry about and allocate resources to keep up with technology upgrades, they cannot see the limitations of a management model that has failed to keep pace with the times.

Hamel and Breen point out that the prevailing current hierarchy management model reflects mid-20th Century management processes, built upon 19th Century principles that have lost relevancy because of the vastly different global environment changed by today’s technology. The new Web business model is completely different in every way: a ‘flat’ real-time spread-out network of thousands of leaders with many more thousands of followers.  All are linked to fields of peer review, and all are subject to “rapid-fire reality tests.” The Web is evolving faster than anything else because it’s not a hierarchy.

Many of today’s employees are tech-savvy digital natives who instinctively sense the gap and may even articulate it only to have their observations fall on deaf ears.  They want to take pride in their work – and many even want to help – but instead, they find themselves up against a brick wall of out-of-touch management who has been molded in the old ways.  Being the first point of contact, employees will vent their frustration and disgust on their immediate supervisor.  This is no joke – most employees would forego a raise to see their boss fired.  According to those polled, 65% of Americans hate their boss so much they would rather see them gone than get paid more!

But the problem goes deeper because middle managers are held accountable for assigned tasks handed to them that they haven’t been involved in making.  The middle manager then becomes overly engaged in being the ‘taskmaster’ of functions that they may not even believe in or know won’t work.  In order for middle managers to cope with the job pressure and demands from their boss (often a top executive who hasn’t been with the company long enough to really know it), they start playing statistical and analytical games.  There is often a disconnect between managers and their bosses, leaving many managers disengaged, robotic, and uncaring.

Towers Watson’s research shows that the number one driver for all employee engagement – including management – is effective leadership.  Organizations need to be free from the limits of leadership styles and models that continue to exacerbate disengagement.  It is going to take more than technology to get past this repackaged Industrial Age management mindset.  It will take understanding and confronting old ways of thinking that no longer make sense.

In this continuing series, we want to look at some of the belief systems that have contributed to today’s organizational policies and attitudes but rarely seem to get talked about.

In Part 2, we will talk about the astonishingly short lifetimes of Fortune 500 companies.