Sometimes, you just can't win for trying…

Remember when we all used to run around as HR professionals shouting from the top of our lungs how we must strive toward “employer of choice” status.  EOC was the HR buzz term for the late 90′s and early 00′s.  I grew up in the industry drinking that cool-aid.  Don’t get me wrong; generally, I think it’s a good idea to try and create an environment where your employees enjoy spending most of their waking hours and I think it’s important to invest in your people and their careers.  But I think organizations should only go so far on this quest for the holy grail of employee engagement and here’s why:

#1) There ain’t no such thing as Utopia in the workplace.
#2) It is metaphysically impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time.
#3) There will always be involuntary turnover…and involuntary turnover is not all that bad.
#4) There are some employees who just hate working for “the man.”   Yet they will show up at the office and chain themselves to the desk day after day after day. 
#5) Most employees are smart and will inherently have some level of skepticism around what the employer is really up to. 
#6) Workplaces are not designed for trustworthiness…trust me. 
#7) There are just as many employees who are unappreciative of their employers as there are employers who are unappreciative of their employees.
#8) Like every social fabric on our globe, the workplace will always have some exceptional people, some mediocre people, and some real losers.  By definition, you can’t have all exceptional people and if you tell me that you can I’ll call you a big fat liar and I’ll sketch out a complex algorithm which demonstrates the mathematical impossibility. 
#9) Anyone who thinks they can create a workplace that is really truly fun probably works in a bar; don’t fool yourselves…fun is fickle in the workplace. 
#10) If you think there are people who your business really can’t live without, think again. 

I just don’t think we should be running around trying to create this end-all-to-be-all for our people.  Let’s be realistic and do those things that make a lasting difference to those employees who really matter.  Stop spending 80% of your time on the 20% of the people who in the grand scheme of things mean very little to your organization’s success.

  • Pasmuz

    This reminded me of the Seinfeld episode in which George Castanza was obsessed over the fact someone did not like him. It drove him crazy.
    I think the same thing about work. Hoping everyone you work with is going to like you and/or your place of business will drive you crazy.

    Two more thoughts:
    1. By focusing on the “20%” that are unhappy, there is a risk you are going to start making part of the“80%” unhappy because they are being neglected. The 80% start to feel unappreciated, unmotivated & eventually become poor performers. Now you have a real problem on your hands.
    2. If your organization is operating ethically & is doing the best it can to keep employees happy (maybe you can’t afford a good benefit package), you should be able to sleep at night. Another way of measuring employee satisfaction, is how often are you in court?

  • Charlie Judy

    @Pasmuz I’ve never understood why many managers are uncomfortable with the idea of their people being displeased about something at work. It’s human nature to find fault and it will always be that way. The sooner we get over this, the sooner we’ll get back to focusing on things that matter. Thx for the comment.