10 Employee Engagement-Destroying Perceptions You Cannot Afford

If you want to improve employee engagement, boost employee morale, and maximize employee productivity, you cannot simply do the “right things.”

It’s not enough to model best practices demonstrated by employers such as Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and other denizens of the various Best Places to Work lists. You need to identify and eliminate the “wrong things.”

By “wrong,” I mean the organizational and managerial practices that squelch employee engagement and crush employee morale. If you’re doing these, you can guarantee that your workforce is running on only a couple of cylinders. If you are doing these, you can also guarantee that your employees are only mildly interested in producing the best quality product or service.

In fact, it is arguably more important to eliminate the negative than it is to implement the positive. At the very least, it is imperative to quickly identify and eliminate the engagement-damaging and morale-damaging practices before focusing on implementing positive best practices.

How the way the brain is hard-wired affects employee engagement

The reason you need to identify and eliminate “employee engagement destroyers” first is because of how the human brain is hard-wired.

The human brain is hard-wired to notice and remember negative things more effectively than positive. That’s because the brain is hard-wired for survival, and is basically designed for a bygone “caveman/cavewoman” era. When you consider this, it makes sense that the brain registers and remembers objects and events associated with negative emotions more effectively than those associated with positive emotions.

In a “law of the jungle/survival of the fittest” context, the negative things can harm you — even kill you. The positive ones are nice, but they are not of life or death importance. As I say in seminars when describing this “caveman/cavewoman context”:

The ability to remember that a particular patterned snake is poisonous is a life or death issue. Remembering that a particularly patterned bird has an enjoyable song is a quality of life issue. While quality of life is important, it is not as important at a primal level as your survival. Thus, our brains notice and remember what’s wrong, bad, and dangerous more effectively than what’s right, positive, and pleasurable.”

“How come THAT’S the thing they remember?”

Most managers — or parents — have experienced this phenomenon in a very personal, and frustrating, way. You can do 20 nice, appropriate, thoughtful things for an individual, or a team, and one insensitive, thoughtless act, and it’s the latter that is noticed and remembered…for eternity.

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Thus, when it comes to employee engagement, employee morale, and employee productivity, employers must recognize what they do that might be damaging employee engagement, morale, and productivity. Likewise, managers must know how to do the same at an individual level. Otherwise, the negatives will overshadow all the good practices you implement.

Employee engagement-destroying perceptions

The following ten employee perceptions are deal breakers when it comes to improving employee engagement and morale. In other words, if your employees feel this way about you as a manager, or your organization as an employer, you must find out how you are creating these perceptions…and eliminate those actions.

As you reflect on each perception, ask yourself:

  1. How likely is it that our employees — or my team members — have this perception? If I say “not likely”… why am I so sure?
  2. What do employers and what do managers do that foster this perception? Do we — and do I — engage in any of these behaviors?
  3. Have I, or we, done anything lately that would naturally foster this perception?

10 employee perceptions you cannot afford

  1. “You want us to care about you, but you don’t care about us.”
  2. You want us to show interest in your business goals, but you keep us in the dark.”
  3. “You make it hard to do the kind of job I can feel proud of.”
  4.  “You have no clue about what it’s like for us in the trenches.”
  5. You make decisions that affect us, but you don’t have the decency or commonsense to ask for our input.”
  6. “You allow slacking off, poor performance, and bad behavior slide.”
  7. “You take me for granted.”
  8. “You don’t let me know how I’m doing, and you don’t let me know what I’m doing well.”
  9. “You take advantage of your power.”
  10. “You want me to be more motivated, yet you’re not inspired — or inspiring.”

This is just the beginning

Don’t just think about this and wonder how applicable this is to your workplace — do something with it.

Here are three  things you can do in the next few weeks to benefit from this short article.

  • Share this article with your fellow managers and use it as a catalyst for some frank discussion. See if there are connections between what frustrates them and what they’re not getting from your employees and these 10 perceptions.
  • Share this article with your team and ask them for frank feedback.
  • Use this as a catalyst to find out about how your employees perceive you as a manager and you as an employer.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," and Dealing with a Difficult Co-Worker, volume one of the Courageous Conversations at Work series, as well over 100 articles and book chapters.

You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.