Why Are Workers Disengaged? Because of Ryan, That's Why.

7 min read

We often cite a 2013 Gallup report that found that 70 percent of U.S. workers are either "disengaged" –  they're a butt in a seat, but that's about it –  or "actively disengaged" – these are the sourpusses "roaming the halls spreading discontent," as Gallup puts it. What's making this huge chunk of the workforce so unhappy? To the surprise of exactly no one, most dissatisfied workers blame bad bosses. And while tales of inept managers make for fun cocktail party fodder after the fact, Gallup assures us that the damage they do is very real: "these managers from hell are creating active disengagement costing the U.S. an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually." You've probably had a boss who drove you barking mad, and so did our friend  Alexandria H. Under cover of anonymity (we think that's her in the nose and mustache glasses), she tells us about the temperamental boss she worked for at a PR agency. I used to have a boss whose relationship with his employees was equivalent to that of an abusive spouse. You know, one where there would be shouting matches or you would be berated for something, then he would turn around and buy us lunch like nothing ever happened. My coworkers and I called his words of wisdom “Ryanisms.” These “isms” were usually followed by something that was the complete opposite of what he was saying. For example:

  • "You're the captain of your own ship." He would tell us that he's not a micromanager and to proceed without his involvement, only to ask us later why he didn't know about a project/email OR why he wasn't involved in something.
  • "I'm not a teacher, you're not a student." After which he would lecture us for an hour on how to do something that we already knew how to do.
  • "This isn't a hand slap." This occurred when he perceived something to be wrong and he would outright tell you it was improper.
  • "I'm the president of this company; I don't have time to read all my emails!" (One of my faves!) Ryan would often initiate and participate in email conversations with clients, fully aware of what was going on. But if he dropped the ball on something, he would remind us of his role in the company and the "exorbitant" amount of email he received.
  • "Own your slice of the pie.” If our boss ever thought our work was unacceptable, he had no problem letting us know we needed to take more accountability. Of course, his slice of the pie was never tended to, leaving us to account for his work as well.
  • “You’re an account executive, not an assistant!" This was Ryan's twisted way of telling his employees that if we didn't take initiative, it was because we were thinking like assistants who have to be told what to do. Of course, there were times I had to deal with the phone company, IT, ordering food, the billing, etc. He must have forgotten he'd ever said that during those times.

Related: Creating rewarding business cultures

7 Signs of a Healthy Corporate Culture

Adrian Gostick, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Carrot Principle, identified seven characteristics of companies with outstanding cultures. He shared them with us last year in a Q&A.

  1. Companies with the best cultures define their “burning platform.” By that I mean they see the threats on the horizon.
  2. They create a customer focus. This is different than putting customers first. This means that each person has an idea of who their customers are and what their customers need.
  3. Then we develop agility. In this economy, agility has become important. If you think of the burning platform as watching out for threats, agility is its corollary. It’s anticipating opportunities that are coming down the road.
  4. In the great cultures that we studied there was a “share everything” policy. We found open communications and high levels of trust.
  5. A lot of managers aren’t sure about this one, but it is simple and important. You have to partner with your talent. The days of the autocratic rule are long gone. (Hear that, Ryan?) Our people have has much expertise in their areas as we do in ours. In the very best organizations there was higher levels of growth. They found opportunities and ways to bring out the best ideas from people.
  6. We root for each other. Every good culture we studied had higher levels of camaraderie and very low levels of those feelings of backstabbing and idea stealing.
  7. The final common characteristic we found was clear accountability. It can’t be all warm and fuzzy. And it’s not really just a strong level of accountability. In the good environments that we studied, accountability was a positive thing. In some environments when the boss says,  “Give me a minute of your time,” people are terrified. But where accountability was positive it was different.

Do you have your own equivalent to "Ryanisms?" We'd love to hear them! Send to Image by maisicon/Shutterstock