Director The Learning Architect
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What are you doing about the doom goblins in your organisation?

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11th Nov 2013
Director The Learning Architect
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Liggy Webb, our resident workplace wellness expert, has more positivity advice for the community.

Over the past decade people engagement has become a mainstream management concept and is now a hotbed of discussion within businesses. Working across a range of sectors, I am always quite fascinated with the varied ways in which the engagement of people is actually approached.

Recently, I was asked to speak at The World of Learning Conference at the NEC in Birmingham alongside Stuart Curtis, Head of Operations at Thomson Reuters. Our presentation on 'How to maximise human capital through effective engagement' focused on the important role of learning and development, and was underpinned by various case studies.

In preparation for the presentation I conducted extensive research on the many challenges for organisations when faced with disengaged people. My first observations were the varying levels of understanding of people engagement, and the lack of clarity regarding whose responsibility this is. It may therefore be useful to outline the nature of people engagement. Essentially, there are three dimensions of people engagement to explore:

  • Intellectual engagement – thinking hard about the job and how it could be done better.
  • Affective engagement – feeling positive about doing a good job.
  • Social engagement – actively taking opportunities to discuss work-related improvements with others at work.

The CIPD (in conjunction with the Kingston Engagement Consortium) defined employee engagement as 'being positively present during the performance of work by willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections with others'.

"The very knowledge that we can completely change our experiences if we address our attitudes and take personal responsibility is not only extremely empowering, but is also liberating and exciting."

As an advocate of positivity it is evident that a positive attitude plays a key role here. One of the greatest challenges I unveiled through my research was the enormous amount of time and energy absorbed by actively disengaged employees. When assessing your population they will generally fall into one of these three categories of engagement:

  • Engaged – employees with high potential who demonstrate a keen desire to support the organisation’s vision and values. They are positive and flexible about their work, and will actively go the extra mile.
  • Compliant  – employees who come to work, don’t rock the boat too much and are competent at what they do.
  • Actively disengaged – employees who are not only disengaged but who are also intent on disengaging others. They are a toxic presence in your workforce and can have a profound effect on contaminating others with their negative attitudes.

The question is: What are you doing about these doom goblins within your organisation?

It seems that a disproportionate amount of management time is spent on people who are intent on playing the victim and focusing on the negatives and impeding progress. Individuals who use the time to air their dissatisfaction and actively drain other colleagues’ positivity and energy can often sabotage valuable learning and development opportunities. On occasions, in my experience, line managers will send employees along to an L&D activity expecting them to get fixed. All too often the employee will say, “ I don’t know why I am here. My manager told me I had to come along ”. Line managers need to take much more responsibility tackling negativity and performance manage more proactively and effectively.  

There is a danger that we ignore this toxic presence like the proverbial elephant in the room and do nothing about it in the hope that it will go away. Of course, it doesn’t and eventually it starts to take its toll, dragging down the fully engaged workforce. In such cases, it is essential to equip line managers with the tools to effectively performance-manage whilst establishing themselves as role models with regards to their own attitude.

Times are increasingly challenging and change is commonplace, but if negativity is tolerated, it will ultimately contaminate the culture of your organisation. Some employees may feel pessimistic and hard done-by, and very often this can be due to conditioned thinking just as much as circumstance.

The first port of call when seeking to re-engage disengaged employees is to offer help and support, to provide options and development. I have witnessed some excellent examples of individuals who have completely turned their mindsets around and have become great advocates and role models. The very knowledge that we can completely change our experiences if we address our attitudes and take personal responsibility is not only extremely empowering, but is also liberating and exciting.

So what about the employees who don’t want to be anything other than a negative influence on others? How long will they be tolerated? Perhaps we need to get a bit better at engaging the disengaged!

Liggy Webb is the founding director of The Learning Architect, a consortium of behavioural skills specialists and has amassed over twenty five years of experience in this field. Liggy has worked with a wide range of organisations including the United Nations, HMRC, the NHS, Thomson Reuters, Lloyds TSB, the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Asda, David Lloyd, the RSC, Thames Valley Police, TUI Travel and P&O Cruises. Email [email protected] for more tips and advice on managing negativity in the workplace

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