When Nora Burns Went Undercover She Discovered the “Just’a” Workforce

When Nora Burns went undercover she discovered “Just’a” employees everywhere she went.

“I got to sit in the breakroom and talk to your employees, not as an HR consultant, but as one of them,” Burns told her DisruptHR Denver audience last fall. What she discovered when she asked them their role was an indifference expressed in their self-effacing response, “I’m just’a…”

“Which makes you wonder,” said Burns, “At what point do they think, ‘Well, they’re just a customer’?”

That lack of engagement evolves out of the many “meta messages” these employees are sent about their worth, Burns explained, describing her own experiences: work schedules indiscriminately changed after being published; managers who walked away from her to take phone calls; critical information she needed to do her job not provided and when she asked, written down on scraps of paper.

This indifference — disrespect — translates into indifferent customer service and a difficulty retaining good workers.

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“We have money walking out the front door of our organizations every day — $5,000 per front-line employee to replace that person who feels that they’re irrelevant. I beg you to disrupt the meta messages that are happening with our front line employees – because there are no ‘just a…’ jobs.”


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