The Big Freeze Out, or Why You Can’t Ignore the Dissed-Engaged

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Jul 15, 2014

What do you do with a productive outlier?

Especially when she’s a smart problem-solver who is sometimes collaborative, and works well with others, but who’s also a headstrong, impulsive, independent, opinionated and throws tantrums like baseballs from a wild fast pitcher — tantrums that take what feels like an inordinate amount of time to extinguish; a fuse lighting itself over and over again like a trick stick of dynamite.

One minute she’s figuring everything out, and the next, she’s blowing up.

Sizzle. Hiss. Ka-boom.

Freezing out is not kind

Of course, she’s only 4-years-old and my youngest daughter.

Wait, what? You didn’t see that coming?

According to the Positive Discipline developers, it’s not easy for most of us (children and adults included) to verbalize our feelings when we’re are upset, and there are those of us who can’t verbalize their feelings at all at any time.

Children (and unfortunately, still too many adults) haven’t learned how to articulate what they need and want. Temper tantrums often occur when children feel controlled.

Yes, I’m going somewhere with this…

Positive discipline doesn’t mean being so completely permissive that there is no discipline at all, but it does mean we need to “both kind and firm in our actions. Kindness shows respect for the child. Firmness shows respect for the needs of the situation and for parents. Spanking and punitive time outs are not kind.”

Punitive time outs are not kind. And neither is freezing out, the adult alternative.

Focusing on the dissed-engaged

Recently, I watched a harassment and workplace safety video that included an “acted out” story about a valuable but “pain-in-the-butt-complaining” employee who no one, not even her immediate supervisor, wanted to deal with. So, another manager recommended to just “freeze her out” and eventually she’d hopefully just leave the company.

Of course, the correct answer here was not to freeze her out, but instead was to deal with the situation head on to attempt to rectify it, maybe even figure out where she could go elsewhere in the company to maximize her skills and expertise.

Then I heard from a friend who experienced the freeze out and who eventually left because she saw “the writing on the wall,” and who even overheard another executive in the company insist that this was her way of dealing with employees she no longer wanted around because it was easier that way. (We can save the really fringe HR nightmares for another time.)

These are the dissed-engaged (a reality twist on disengaged), the outliers of productive talent engagement that we ignore today in the world of work.

Hey, you think workplace bullying is bad? Being ignored is even worse, especially when it’s coming from all facets in the organization.

What the research shows

For example, for a recent study in Organization Science, the University of British Columbia’s Sandra Robinson and her team analyzed surveys that compared and contrasted the consequences of workplace ostracism with workplace bullying. We’re talking alienating co-workers rather than abusing them, and the results suggest that alienating is much worse.

The research showed that employees whose co-workers often neglected them by leaving them out of conversations, ignoring them in the hallways, etc., felt unhappier, disliked their own work more, and even more frequently left their jobs than people who were bullied.

Now, juxtapose that with this:  according to a 2014 Employee Engagement survey by Human Capital Media Advisory Group, the research arm of Talent Management, even though “recognition and work-life balance programs are among the leading methods to promote engagement, both techniques were among the least-valued factors by HR managers when measuring engagement.”

In fact, “when it came to the values and behaviors companies say they evaluate in measuring engagement, overall job satisfaction (64.1 percent), excitement about one’s work (60.9 percent) and opportunity to grow and improve skills (60.9 percent) top the list, according to the survey, roughly in line with last year’s results.”

What today’s workers want

This certainly makes sense to me, but for the dissed-engaged, there eventually is no excitement about one’s work, nor is there an opportunity to grow and improve skills.

And as we learned last week on the TalentCulture #TChat Show, the talent management strategies of the past no longer work, and our guest, Jeff Carr, President and CEO of PeopleFluent, shared that the top talent challenges he hears from customers include developing leaders and developing vibrant and engaging workplace cultures. Not easy tasks for even the most progressive of organizations.

Today people work differently, are motivated differently and are engaged differently. They want:

  • Opportunity — Employees want ongoing growth opportunities, workplace flexibility, tools and systems that encourage collaboration, and commitment to a reciprocal climate of support and encouragement, all of which lead to payoffs in employee retention, satisfaction, and overall business performance.
  • Closure — This means exhausting all avenues on how to maximize existing talent while working through trick fuses and other trouble spots, even if the end result is that the individual must go, or will go. Otherwise, “freezing out” behavior seeps into the drywall like toxic mold.

Better people management experiences

To avoid the toxic mold, it’s critical to drive higher levels of contribution and deeper engagement through better “people management” experiences that can and will lead to better and more lucrative business outcomes.


The dissed-engaged deserve it. We all do.

This was originally published on Kevin Grossman’s Reach West blog.