HR Management, Talent Management

Are You “Done?” You Need Some Fire to Fix Employee Discontentment

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“I’m done.”

Those words were uttered by Andy Roddick last month at the beginning of the U.S. Open. Tennis is unlike a lot of sports, where the coach or general manager lets you know in so many words that it may be time to go.

Yes, in most sports they tell you when you are done. In tennis, it is the player’s decision and determination when they’re finally finished.

As I commute into New York City each morning, I know that so many people that are on my bus are DONE. You can spot it in the most minute bit of a conversation. It oozes out of their pores. At the smallest opening, they tell you it without uttering those two words — but we know.

Freedom or fallacy?

Those words, to some, mean freedom and enlightenment. That is, freedom now to do what I WANT to do, and enlightenment because now I CAN be happy with what I am doing.

But in a lot of cases, this is all a fallacy. There is no such thing as freedom, enlightenment and getting to a point in life where it means living happily ever after.

When Andy Roddick talked about being done, he became very emotional. I think that is because the so-call load has been lifted. The process of being done does not culminate overnight. It is a process that builds over time like a slow-filling balloon — that is, until that day that no more air can enter and it just goes “pop!”

How will you react when you know it’s over?

Would you tear-up when you wake that morning and realize, that yes, I’m done?

In sports, I always notice that athletes who have worked since childhood at their profession always become emotional when it is time to hang it up. One thread that comes through is that in a lot of cases, they just do not have the passion or mindset for it anymore, and they always tear-up when saying goodbye.

The new normal

Being done is about being released, like a caged bird that, once the gate is open, flies out into the blue yonder. My father-in-law worked in manufacturing and to him it was just a job — nothing more, nothing less. When he reached the age to retire, he did it in a heartbeat.

His company called and asked whether he would be willing to come back part time. He did not even think about it for a split second; his answer was a flat NO. He was so glad to simply get out.

In our corporate world, all indications say that three-quarters of the workforce is done or in various stages of done-ness. The problem is that they are still being paid at 100 percent for about 50 percent of effort. Because of the recent turmoil in this economy, this is going to be a constant struggle for years to come.

This uncertainty is the new normal.

Jim Collins in his new book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them Allsays that the current tumult is the new reality. The years from 1952−2000 were an aberration, not the norm, he says.

Organizations now have to deal with changing conditions, markets, threats, and opportunities. The relatively stable and consistent times of the latter half of the 20th century are gone and likely not to return.

Navigating the valley of employee discontent

On top of all that, organizations are dealing with a workforce that has become more robotic in that the work that is done is done with no real level of enthusiasm. While this is not true about the total workforce, it is about a good percentage of it.

So the dilemma comes down to this: what can we as HR representatives do to help our businesses and organizations navigate through this valley of employee discontent? What is our role in fixing this?

We are all on the front line, and we need to try and instill in all managers that not only HR, but all of us are all on the front line in this struggle. We are all in this together. If you don’t buy into this, maybe you are done. It is WE, not THEY

Understand your culture. Do not waste time with initiatives if you know they will just become the latest “flavor of the month.” If you know your culture, you should have a good sense of what will work.

“For 25 years, you paid for my hands when you could have had my brain as well for nothing.” That was a quote by GE employ\

Ask your people what they need. Your organization does it all the time with their customers. Employees should be treated the same.

The internal dynamic between your managers and their people is the key that will unlock potential. This should ideally be a collaborative relationship where both see the value of being connected. When people are not challenged and connected, you may as well have a robot doing the job.

Keep your employees close

Come out of that office. You must develop a rapport with your people. So many times HR wants to be BFF with all the executives, but dismiss the employees.

Keep all of them close. Manage by walking around. Don’t become the HR person that when you show up, everyone knows that someone is in trouble or feel someone is going to be laid off. Staying behind closed door and just associating with your HR team does not bode well for your career or the organization.

Understand your business. You should feel just as comfortable sitting in a business meeting as well as an HR meeting. You should know your industry challenges as well as how your organization matches up with those challenges.

Your company’s yearly goals should be so completely understood that you could regurgitate them in any environment. Know the financials, but also know where all the pain points are.

Being done is a point that we all will deal with in the future, but if the fire is still in your belly, you have to spread it to your workforce.

Enthusiasm is as contagious as a virus and just as deadly. Don’t be done yet; there is still a lot of work to do.

Happy Labor Day!

Ron Thomas is a human resources officer currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He formerly was director, talent and human resources solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company) and is certified by the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He's also worked in senior HR roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. Ron serves on the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He also serves as a faculty partner and executive facilitator at the Human Capital Institute. He has received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence by the World Human Resource Development Congress in Mumbai. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com or on Twitter.