Control or Engagement. Never Both.
I am your front line staffer, your worker bee. I’m the guy who talks to your customers all day, who builds the stuff that you sell, who does the heavy lifting so this company can keep its lights on. And I have a message for you, because it seems they failed to teach this in b-school:
You can have my heart and brain, or you can have my unthinking obedience. You can never have both.
I want to love the company I work for – who doesn’t? When I started with your company, I had really high hopes that this was the home for me, a place where I could really apply myself, and add true value! When I started, I brought not just my butt for your chair, my fingers for your keyboard, my back for lifting, and my mouth for your customers: I brought my zeal, my energy, and my heart! I brought my smile, and my desire to make a real difference. I brought my hope. I was engaged.
I found out pretty quickly, though, there’s a reason all your veterans are so jaded. I’d say by my third month, it wasn’t so easy for me to shrug off their negativity. You see, while I was new to your company, maybe even new to the world of work, I wasn’t new to the world. The controls and countless “metrics” you have in place to ensure our “compliance,” the enormous bureaucracy that we all seem employed to serve… as one of my more tenured colleagues put it, your company is soul-quashing.
I don’t think you want your employees to hate their jobs, and your company. I just don’t think you have any idea. Maybe you’re too insulated by the immense hierarchy you have between me down here and you way up there. Maybe you’re too preoccupied with the spreadsheets that report on our performance metrics to actually spend any time talking to any of us down here on your front lines. I’m not sure. But somehow, you appear to be missing an important point: you have your staff’s time, but you don’t have our hearts.
In short, you can control us, or you can engage us.
Right now, we are far from engaged. I think your spreadsheets will tell you what that means to your bottom line. It’s costly to have employees who are turned off; who check their brains at the door when they come to work each day.
I’m putting you on notice. Not today, maybe not even this quarter, but at some point I’m leaving. I’m going back to grad school. I’m going to find a company that gets this whole engagement-versus-control thing better than you. Maybe I’ll start my own company, and learn from your mistakes! Whatever the case, I’m outta here. My heart is already gone. My butt will be soon, too.
Of course, it’s never too late until I’ve actually left. If you want me to stay – and if you want my engagement to return from its long absence – all you have to do is ask. I’m dying to tell you all the ways you’re killing my morale, just so long as you promise to act on that insight.
You see, I wouldn’t be writing you this Dear John letter if a tiny little part of me didn’t still care. Will you meet me half way? Will you start helping me, and stop commanding me? If you can do that, I promise, you’ll quickly learn what a creative, energetic worker I can be!
Just like I was when I was new.
Graphic by Zeptonn