Employee engagement levels continue to remain dismally low across the globe, and a surprisingly high number of us are looking for new jobs.
If you’re one of those seeking greener pastures, there’s a curious fact of brain science you need to know.
Employees looking for a new job will unconsciously transmit that fact, even if they don’t realize they’re doing so. (We tend to reveal our frustrations and unhappiness because we want to maintain our integrity, even if we’re not vocalizing it or are even aware of it.)
“Brain science tells us that when we’ve decided we no longer value our job, we’re more likely to let our disrespect show in the way we talk to – or about – our employers, leaders and colleagues,” says Gregg Ward, author of The Respectful Leader: Seven Ways to Influence Without Intimidation. “Most people have a fairly good sense of what’s right and what’s wrong and looking for another job behind the boss’s back ‘feels’ wrong.”
And our boss is highly likely to pick up on our feelings.
We want to be honest
Most employees want to work in a healthy environment where they can be open and honest with their manager. They want to feel so confident about their relationship they can take a risk and let leaders know they’re not happy and are looking for other work.
Unfortunately, the reality at most companies is that this kind of relationship rarely exists.
Ward says unhappy employees will act out or reveal their true feelings. “Employees unconsciously hope the boss will figure it out, be ‘understanding,’ and make everything right. That too is unrealistic, but it’s also incredibly human,” he says.
Andrew Wittman, the author of Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You, agrees that, however seemingly illogical, employees want to be caught when they’re contemplating a job change.
Leaders vs. Managers
The difference between a supervisor who has empathy and understanding about employee frustration and the one who doesn’t care is the same difference you’ll see between a leader and a manager.
Leaders are tuned into their teams, care about them as people, and will notice employee dissatisfaction, discontent, or burnout long before employees start looking for a new job. Managers are focused on completing tasks, rather than having their radar set to detect employee engagement or fulfillment.
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“If we no longer value the job, the human machine cannot help but to think, speak, and act in a way that’s congruent with our antithetical attitudes and opinions of disdain,” Wittman says. “By default, the brain wants to tell on itself, and it takes enormous cognitive resources and energy to tamp that instinct down. Eventually, our words and actions will become congruent with our real thoughts and feelings.”
Respond with empathy
Smart leaders will pick up your signals before it’s too late and will use the brain science behind rejection and acceptance to remedy the problem.
Cognitive brain science has discovered the human brain registers rejection (social pain) the same way we register actual physical pain. A good leader will be aware of employees’ strong need for acceptance in the workplace (and their significant fear of rejection) and address employee issues with a high degree of empathy.
How a supervisor analyses the problem, reacts, and addresses it has a critical impact on whether an employee decides to stay or not. When leaders display empathy and provide acceptance to an employee, they’re fulfilling that person’s need for acceptance and alleviates the potential pain that comes from fear of rejection.
“Part of your job as a manager is to help your people grow, increase their skills and level of responsibility,” Ward adds.
For most leaders, the key to success is to stay attuned to employees and what they’re revealing in their words and actions. Too often, we ignore the obvious and fail to address unhappiness or frustration. With more empathy and an intentional mindset, we can learn to identify what’s really bothering an employee and retaining them becomes a lot easier.