A Cog in a Wheel

I interviewed a key leader in a client organization recently. I was gathering perceptions of the organization’s culture. I’d spoken to senior leaders and was now engaging with next level leaders for their insights.

This key leader was tired. His ten-member team had been running hard over the last year, shorthanded. They have three open positions. “Everyone is doing their fair share but the workload just doesn’t let up,” he told me. They’d been actively recruiting to fill the job slots but haven’t found qualified people to plug in. Many strong candidates had multiple offers for more money than their company was offering.

“This is a really good company but no one gives us any credit for the extra work everyone is doing,” he said. “We feel like cogs in a wheel. No one is paying any attention to us.”

Among other things, this leader is experiencing the negative impact of the improving job market. People are confident that they can get a better job quickly so are leaving their current, probably uninspiring roles by the thousands. A recent USA Today article noted that over 2.8 million Americans quit their jobs in March 2015, up from 2.7 million in February.

This leader – and his team – is also experiencing a lack of appreciation for their efforts, which recent studies have found – unfortunately – to be quite common. Tiny HR’s 2015 Engagement and Culture report found that only 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work. Over 25% of employees reported they don’t have the tools to be successful in their jobs.

That lack of validation and appreciation can definitely lead to employees deciding to look for a different job where their contributions are recognized.

Why do leaders ignore genuine contributions by teams and players? It may be that these leaders believe that effusive praise and encouragement is fluff. These leaders think, “I’m paying them fair wages. I don’t need to thank them every minute, as well, do I?”

Or it may be these leaders simply don’t think about praise and encouragement, at all. They didn’t get it from their bosses so they don’t think it’s important today.

Or, it may be that these leaders are spread thin themselves. They know that they’re not providing positive, validating feedback to their employees and they feel badly for it. They apparently don’t feel badly enough to change their behavior and proactively praise aligned contributions, though!

A cog in a wheel is an important element; it keeps the machine running smoothly. If it’s cared for – cleaned, oiled, and polished regularly – it will serve the machine well for years. If it’s not cared for, it will break – bringing the machine to a halt. The breakage may even cause greater damage to other parts of the machine!

Humans deserve to know where they stand, regularly. A leader’s time and energy invested in dialog, genuine appreciation, and validation of aligned efforts builds employee engagement and well-being. Those, in turn, inspire employees to apply their skills in service to team goals and customers.

Employees are not cogs in a wheel. They are the face of your company and the foundation of your organization’s products and services. Treat them well, daily.

What do you think? How did your best bosses express genuine appreciation for work well done? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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