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Facilitating Learning That Drives Performance

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Why are so many people unhappy at work ?

unhappy_at_work87% of employees are unhappy and disengaged at work according to a recent survey conducted by Gallup, the global performance management and consulting company. I have no reason to doubt the survey results as the vast majority of employees that I interact with, in the course of my work as a learning consultant are unhappy with their work and the workplace environment. Mind you, this includes people at all levels in the organisation right up to department heads. This led me to dig deeper and explore plausible explanations for disengagement and unhappiness at work.

Lack of trust – Nearly one in three employees do not trust their employer as per the Edelman Global Trust Barometer Survey 2016. What exactly do we mean by trust here? In very simple terms, trust ‘is the willingness to be vulnerable to the action of others’. Trust signals confidence in others. When your organisation or supervisor trusts you to do the work assigned instead of hovering around micromanaging, you commitment levels rise up to ensure that the work is done no matter what.When the default climate in an organisation is one which considers employees as lazy job shirkers who need to be monitored closely, where is the scope for trust to exist? In the wake of Merissa Mayer of yahoo wanting employees to work in the office, there was much debate on whether she trusted her employees. Here is what Richard Branson founder of Virgin Group had to say about it "We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in their kitchen.Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will."

A strong feeling of being considered as means to an end – A cog in the wheel is the closest metaphor that describes the feeling of insignificance employees experience at large organisations. There is a strong feeling that you as an individual do not matter. It’s the brand, the product, the customer loyalty that is more important to some organisations. A young, enterprising employee narrated how his manager once warned him - “Have a problem? Feel free to leave; I can get ten others like you to work here.” One doesn’t need a class in Kantian ethics to understand that people cannot be treated as means to an end. Their freedom needs to be respected. The mere usage of words such as head count, workforce, human resources all point to our tendency to club people along with machines
that dish out products. A resource by definition is a source or supply from which benefit is produced and in the process may be consumed or made unavailable. No wonder why people feel sapped out of their life energy at the fag end of their careers. How could we then motivate employees? Helping employees in aligning their values to those of the organisation, acknowledging their efforts and giving their work more meaning and purpose would go a long way in motivating them.

Perception of low autonomy and freedom – “Freedom is not worth having, if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” This quote from Mahatma Gandhi sums up the state of affairs in organisations that pay platitudes to words like empowerment but do not give the freedom to experiment and fail. This takes us back to our earlier observation about lack of trust. Where there is lack of trust, there are strict controls. For creativity and innovation to flourish, we need autonomy.Employees must be trusted to self-direct themselves and achieve goals. Study after study has shown that autonomy is a key factor that keeps employees intrinsically motivated to perform well and be happier at work. Companies like Google, Semco,Zappos, Morning Star, Atlassian, Whole Foods all work on the presumption of hiring the best people and leaving them free to do their jobs. 

More and more millennials are choosing to join organisations that allow for autonomy, help them attain mastery and align their values to a higher purpose. Organisations that put up with managers and a climate that discourages trust, looks at people as mere resources and need entries to be made on time sheets for loo breaks would be part of history in the near future.

By Midhun Manmadhan

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