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Are Your Employees Faking It?

Faking it on the job is becoming a popular work ethic.

May 21, 2009
Related Topics: Technology
KEYWORDS technology
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Faking it on the job is becoming a popular work ethic.

To combat the volatility of our economic environment, companies are opting to get more work done with fewer people. These lean strategies benefit the bottom line, but most leaders underestimate the havoc they can have on employee performance and employees ability to drive critical results, such as loyalty, sales and profitability.

A February study by market research firm Quantum Workplace found that by an almost 2-to-one margin, more employers had lower overall employee engagement scores in fall 2008 than in fall 2007. Some experts would argue that wavering scores have been an issue for years, but the majority would agree the trend of "faking" job loyalty and eagerness to go the extra mile is on the upswing due to the recession.

Poorer performers, as well as good performers, who leaders think are really committed to the company tend to project a false attitude out of fear of job loss, salary cuts or sweeping organizational changes. Their hope is to get management to take them out of the consideration process.

Yet, regardless of whether that happens or not, this faking significantly drains the company of its ability to impact results. Not only does it make it more challenging to sustain high productivity and provide the consistent quality experiences that keep customers coming back, it often leads an unanticipated “second wave” of turnover.

Second waves — which typically occur after the first round of layoffs — take management completely by surprise when loyal, high-performing employees either choose to leave the organization or check out mentally and stay. Because these individuals were deemed critical to driving the success of the company, they were never in jeopardy of losing their jobs. But upon exit or in staying, they have a paralyzing effect on the organization’s ability to perform, not to mention that they kick up the competitive battleground a notch by being prime candidates for hire by competitors.

These second turnover waves can happen for a number of reasons:
  • The work culture is not what it was before. Maybe some of the employee’s close friends are gone, they don’t feel these former workers were treated with respect, or in the absence of their peers, work just isn’t fun anymore.
  • An employee’s fear for his or her job due the company’s health, or the perceived importance of their role in future success, can make even loyalists shop around. That’s why studies done by organizations such as Salary.com indicate more than half of employees polled say they will be searching for another job within three months. Competitors feed off this anxiety and can capture critical expertise if they’ve focused on creating a healthy work culture.
  • The employee is stressed out, sick of picking up the slack generated by those who are faking commitment, is burned out or has other options. Maybe he or she doesn’t need to work for financial gain and therefore has decided that enough is enough.
Companies can protect against faker and second-wave syndromes and improve the potential for success by taking some simple steps:

  1. Communicate expectations as often and as clearly as possible. Don’t let the rumor mill take control of your culture. Increase the number of company-wide communications regarding the state of the business, as well as the number of management check-ins with employees to uncover concerns that could be sabotaging performance or company culture. Be honest. Be realistic. Be empathetic. Be timely.
  2. Seek input from employees. Make sure to increase formal channels for idea-sharing that will help improve the company. Review and implement as many ideas as possible. Make sure to extend appreciation for these contributions, even for ideas that can’t be implemented at the current time.
  3. Celebrate successes often. Put practices in place to gather individual and company successes — especially those tied to company strategy and business goals — and share them as often as possible. This will help keep employees focused on the most important areas of the business, promote the desired behaviors everyone should be doing to fuel results and foster a sense of accomplishment and pride critical to sustain motivation and engagement.
  4. Get personal with high-performing employees. Take the time to understand what motivates and inspires their loyalty. It costs more to recruit new employees than it does to retain them. But don’t assume that increasing their salaries will eliminate the threat of them walking.
The recession might be driving most business factors down, but it doesn’t have to take a company’s workforce down with it. Employers who invest in building stronger relationships and a shared sense of purpose that people can feel connected to will have employees who are willing to defend the company’s brand in good and bad times.

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