Monday, 9 December 2013

Tackling Employee Dissatisfaction

The trend in Employee - Organisation relationships, as brought out in a few recent surveys, shows a majority of the employees are not engaged with the organisation; that the dissatisfaction levels are very high. Alongside this fact is the lament - or statement from organisations that they are making the organisation more employee friendly. And yet, there is no discernible impact on dissatisfaction levels in general - which are, if anything - rising. 

Reason for that is not one single attempt has dealt with the core issue/s at hand – why are the employees dissatisfied? Why are they disengaged? In my experience no one has even tried to attempt this. As a result, the efforts at engagement are centering around employee activities, rewards and recognition, feel-good programmes, dress-up and dress-down days, cafeteria enhancements, remuneration and emoluments, Saturday half-days which are applicable only to the HO, Gift programmes, intranet links and mailers, parties etc. Not one of these has worked; in fact – the exact reverse. All have boomeranged, and boomeranged big-time.

The reality is that these programmes have either no discernible impact, or indeed serve only to embitter the employee. For example, Saturday offs / Half-Days. These are usually enjoyed only by HO staff; more often than not the branches remain open. At times, even on Sundays - due to the proverbial "driven" boss, who has nothing better to do with his time - and walks in. Result? Your employee-friendly policy goes out the window, and actually causes deep resentment as you realise that the HO staff - or your classmate in Mysore - is relaxing at home! 

Another example: gift programmes, emoluments, Rewards and Recognition. The shoddy implementation of these, in place of acting as motivators, act as severe de motivators due to 2 strong reasons - first, lack of transparency in the process combined with a top-down approach which leaves simmering discontent among the staff, who are not convinced regarding the winners or the people getting appreciation. The general contention is that the favourite got it; its not for us. Secondly, the cut-offs or targets set for appreciation or Gifts is either not communicated properly - or is ridiculously high. The belief is that an unachievable target will drive the employees. The result? More pressure, as the boss makes it a prestige issue. The supposed Reward gets converted into an added target, and more reason for pressure. Result? Good-bye motivation, Good-bye engagement - and Hi There, Dissatisfaction! 

A third example - those lovely cafeterias, game rooms and other facilitators.  An excellent idea, one would think - except the moment the boss walks in - you walk out, or be tagged a loiterer! If that does not happen - in walks the boss, Milk Shake in hand, sees you... Bang! Meeting Chalu! Lets start the meeting. You have no option but to respond. Midway, one of you gets an idea. Out comes the Cellphone, in comes the entire team - and lo and behold, Good-bye game room / cafetaria and Welcome New Meeting Room! Next time, I Me Myself and others at my level make it a point to walk all the way to the cutting chaiwaalaa - individually, mind you (at the most in pairs) - have a cup of tea, spend 15 minutes cursing everyone and his uncle - and back to work! 

There is no systemic check on such blatant abuse of power, and total lack of personal space to the employee. What is worse, most of us do not see it as an encroachment of personal space. Furthermore, none of the relationship improvement efforts attempt to solve the real problems plaguing the corporate world, where what one actually does is in complete variance with our value systems, as well as frequently openly against the law. The lack of Job Security is a further dampener. The total absence of leaves (even if pushed, insecurity forces employees not to take leaves) is an added burden. This is complicated by a lack of security once outside the job. Not only that, a total lack of career planning for employees & no training for skill upgradation is another factor. And, as the icing on the cake, you have the other factors - lack of personal space, too much pressure, constant monitoring etc. The real problems are:

  • The penchant to take unhealthy or even illegal shortcuts; 
  • Pressure to conform rather than be an individual;
  • Pressure tactics; 
  • Hire-and-fire policies; 
  • Lack of proper training and career clarity 
  • Long work hours; 
  • General Lack of transparency & {perceived} unfair PMS
  • Lack of personal time and 
  • Downright unhealthy work atmoshpere cutting across levels and functions.

If you want the employee to be engaged – stop all the frankly ridiculous attempts at engagement – and:

  1. Start enriching his/her job; 
  2. Give him/her security; 
  3. Enable strong checks and balances against misuse of power;
  4. Intolerance towards unhealthy business practices and illegal acts - even at the cost of marketshare 
  5. Shorten work hours; 
  6. Invest in training
  7. Give personal space; \
  8. Empower employees and 
  9. Free from ridiculous levels of control. Thats it.

Nothing else is required. One straight, frank and blunt feedback – whenever such programmes, or measures are announced, I have heard snide remarks as well as foul language. Real foul language. It is a common statement – why should we do anything for the company, when it does nothing for us? Whats in it for me? I’ll stay here for 1-2 years and move on! How can anyone be engaged in such an atmosphere? Impossible!

From personal experience in leading teams - nearly 70-80% of employees respond positively to kind and understanding handling, personal space and independence, time for personal activities, and total intolerance of unhealthy / illegal acts. But once you go down that road, you as the Boss pay for it. Blunt : I have received instructions to commit clear transgressions of law or company rules from Seniors more than once, and oblique hints as a general rule. Further, there is a general statement - if you can do this much with so little pressure, yaar "unki G@#$$ maaro business 20% growth hogaa. You are killing performance! This when the person is already touching 90-100% on targets! That is the reality of Corporate India. 

Things are beginning to change - since, for the first time, people are openly coming out in private conversations, HR confidential emails, blogs, newspapers etc. There is a general dialogue that has started; this bodes well. What is more, those speaking up span the entire spectrum from the juniormost to the seniormost, which is a healthy sign, a harbinger of change - positive change. One might even say that it is only to be expected that some things will go bad in times of rapid growth (such as India saw over the past few years till 2009). Having said that, now is the time to set things right again... here's hoping that happens...


  1. I agree Vishal, job enrichment and empowerment is a factor driving employee satisfaction, motivation and commitment. But don't you feel hire and fire policies are necessary to weed out non performing employees?

    1. Not always; non-performance needs to be analysed properly - what are the reasons for the same? Is the employee being harassed? Too much stress? Insufficient support? Circumstances out of employee control? Incorrect parameters of measurement? HIstory of the area taken care of the employee?