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Employee Apathy

Hardly a day goes by at Meridian that we don’t hear, “If I could just get my employees more motivated we could really improve our bottom line!” Very few owners, however, take a hard look internally at their own company’s systems – to analyze exactly what it is about those existing systems that created employee apathy and killed motivation. Yes, your systems create or discourage apathy. As owners, we must take full responsibility for that apathy and stop blaming outside forces. It’s not bad parents, bad schools or bad government – it’s us.

At one of our Meridian events, a small group of the nation’s top petro owners identified the precise elements in their current employee systems that created apathy. Under the premise that employee attitudes and productivity are the exact products of company culture and personnel systems, these brave executives came up with the following list when challenged to identify what was happening in their organizations to create employee apathy. They said, “We…

  • Pay hourly which rewards our slowest workers.
  • Then pay the really slow ones overtime!
  • Keep sluggards (those who don’t do their job) on staff because we don’t have a replacement.
  • Worse – promote the sluggards.
  • Don’t promote exceptional employees because most times we don’t know who they are.
  • Always catch employees doing something wrong, very rarely doing something right.
  • Constantly criticize their work.
  • Have detailed penalty systems (for tardiness, absenteeism, errors, etc.) but not reward systems at the lowest levels.
  • Do not praise or reward exceptional work.
  • Do not provide written job descriptions, therefore, employees must guess about what exactly it is they are supposed to do.
  • Require extra long hours that can and often does cause burnout.
  • Give inadequate training that usually causes frustration and errors.
  • Do not provide consistent opportunity for advancement.
  • Often fill our highest paid jobs with outsiders.
  • Are hypocritical – for example, we say we embrace family values, but we want our employees to work the weekends whenever we need them.
  • Enforce the chain of command, which restricts management interaction and communication below certain levels.
  • Allow employees to be treated daily with disrespect (from managers and/or peers).
  • Require redundant, boring job duties with no rotation or variation.
  • Do not provide opportunity to constantly learn new things.
  • Solicit their ideas and then don’t act on them or even report back to them about what we thought of those ideas.
  • Worse – don’t ask for their ideas or input.
  • Worst – shoot down their ideas often with, “We tried that years ago – it didn’t work.”
  • Use “us” versus “them” language.
  • Only bonus managers and above which says we don’t value our troops.
  • Don’t show we care about employees as human beings.
  • Don’t allow lowest level employee input on scheduling or provide flexible schedules.
  • Don’t share vital company information with line employees.
  • Set entry-level pay too low where it’s not enough to make a living, then wonder why they steal.”

As the executives created this list, it became painfully evident personnel systems overhaul was needed immediately. If we buy-in to quality guru Edwards Deming’s premise that all workers want to do a good job, have pride and joy in their work, and for them to be fulfilled at work we need to tap into their intrinsic drivers – dignity, self-esteem and the desire to learn, then we must make drastic changes in how we treat and reward our bottom-level employees.

Using a highlighter, read back over this list and mark the system shortcomings you experience at your company. Then, create an action plan to change the systems that foster apathy in your organization. Your plan may start with something simple such as commitment to job postings, or be as complex as creating detailed job descriptions for each employee together with bonus plans to reward exceptional performance.

The main point is: the way your employees care or don’t care about their jobs is mainly your own doing. What you have is what you’ve created. If you don’t like what you see in your employees, change it by changing the systems that created those behaviors.

Through our M-Power™ program, we help family petro companies create what we affectionately call “Dream Teams” of powerfully engaged employees at all levels. As they use our tool, we find it rewarding to participate in company culture shifts that end apathy. For more information , please call 817-594-0546.

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