Should I Stay or Should I Go

By: Mark Goldstein

Gallup has conducted a series of studies over the past few years that analyze employee job engagement. The results are not surprising, but they are alarming – only 30% of employees are engaged with their work and employer. Think of all that is lost with the other 70% of employees – production, customer relations, potential, and dollars – not to mention the caustic effect on other employees and their own level of engagement, and turnover (or the failure to turn over the unengaged). The ultimate question is what causes such widespread disengagement from work, and how to prevent, detect, and rectify it.

While employee disengagement may be attributable to a variety of factors, one factor seems most prominent: the relationship between the employee and his/her direct supervisor. In Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” study, Jim Clifton concludes that “the biggest single decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager.” So how do your managers come to that role within your company? Do they have any training in management? What leadership traits have they shown? And, perhaps most importantly, how certain are you that those traits are essential to management? Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote extensively on this subject and, more specifically, on how his assessments of young soldiers as a young army psychologist were all wrong – evidence of a “cognitive bias” that shaped his later, prize-winning work. As Kahneman described it:

“What happened was remarkable. The global evidence of our previous failure should have shaken our confidence in our judgments of the candidates, but it did not. It should also have caused us to moderate our predictions, but it did not. We knew as a general fact that our predictions were little better than random guesses, but we continued to feel and act as if each of our specific predictions was valid. I was reminded of the Müller-Lyer illusion, in which we know the lines are of equal length yet still see them as being different. I was so struck by the analogy that I coined a term for our experience: the illusion of validity.”

– Thinking Fast & Slow

Another of the recent Gallup studies reveals a greater concern: half of those surveyed left a job to escape their manager. These findings not only reinforce previous studies, but point to a more significant trend: individual employees leave their direct supervisors— not the company. In other words, while certain businesses may consider poor employee retention rates an industry norm or a standard occurrence, the actual issue may be the opposite. Poor managers and/or management may actually be contributing to poor performance or high turnover – undermining your business.

So as you approach the new year, resolve yourself to think beyond year-end bonuses, holiday parties, and “seasonal sentiments.” With unemployment levels at historic lows, do you have an accurate read on your workforce and your managers and, if so, how do you know?

Mark Goldstein is President of Goldstein Law Group, S.C., a boutique law firm serving as outside general counsel to business, with a focus on labor and employment issues, business litigation, and corporate law. He is a frequent speaker and writer on labor and employment law and other topics. Mark is a member of TEC 31.