Updated: Dec 21, 2020
At some point in our careers, all of us have checked out. We all know the point. The one when we feel psychologically unsafe and undervalued. We protest quietly, sometimes. Sometimes we complain or vent to our spouses, friends or coworkers. Sometimes we protest silently, like martyrs, absolutely tight-lipped or subconsciously we just stop trying as hard at our jobs. We show up, but it's akin to the lights being on but no one is home. Or, just maybe we act in ways that subtly undermine leadership or actually sabotage ourselves or others. We act against the organizations objectives, or in workplace-speak, we disengage, like 70% of the workforce does at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars a year to the global economy.
So, as an executive in an organization leading others with an intention to avoid walkouts or checkouts or disengagement before they become issues, one of the most important things you can do is invite workers to speak up so that when they have issues that are hard for management to hear, they feel comfortable speaking up because it’s commonplace to be able to express what they are experiencing. It’s these times specifically, when people need to be heard and feel confident in speaking up and being listened to on matters that have perhaps never been spoken about, that relationship and community is built. Unblocking communication or listening up is key to creating unity, corporate resilience, authentic relationship and trust and it supports morale and altruistic workplace commitment.
Ask questions. Not about what is going on in the workplace, instead…ask the poignant question, What AREN’T we talking about? instead.
Workers check out when we aren’t being respected or considered with any value in the workplace. I know I have and surmise you have also experienced having your ideas and innovations ignored or scoffed at. When it happens, we tend to experience it as an identity threat so we just go to the shut down place. Game over. Once we feel like we don’t belong or that we or our view is irrelevant or unimportant, our reaction is to just stop caring about all of it. The work, the people. The outcomes.
This isn’t limited to the employees either, this extends itself into management and leadership. Escalation comes of not being taken seriously, of not being seen and heard and though employees and management may not always agree with, and that fragile moment will determine the kind of culture the organization will have going forward. Will we engage in dialogue and debate? Can we stay unified even in dissent? Is reconciling a middle ground even an option? Much depends on our ability weave our organization’s culture neatly into the identities we walk through the door with. Are our organizations values and identity in alignment with our own or do we check out?
Disengagement is real and at a huge cost to business and personal satisfaction in the workplace. But so is the Check Out Line. The first place to start is by having a conversation about what we aren't talking about. Set the intention to start the conversation this week. Be amazed at how it unfolds.