The Adaptive Agency

Deep Reasons Employees Don’t Give Their Best (1/3)

by | Jul 16, 2022

Since you started your business, have you ever had some of these feelings?

  • “My employees don’t give 100%.”
  • “They don’t care enough.”
  • “They don’t take ownership.”

Lots of business owners feel like that. Here’s the most fundamental reason why I think employees don’t seem fully bought-in:

They’re way more scared than you think.

At all their previous jobs, they lived in fear of getting in trouble or losing their jobs. It’s made them really good at figuring out how not to lose their jobs. We’re talking priority 1.

What makes them scared?

  • Punitive policies.
  • Petty rules and managers who think supervising is productive.
  • The perceived risks of taking initiative.
  • Not having enough communication to know where they stand.

(That last one is a killer, by the way. Newer employees will always be scared when there’s not enough positive engagement with the boss. It’s also the easiest to repair. Just treat them like someone you want to be around.)

These are super-strong motivators for employees. They make them gravitate to the minimum standard. That’s a really safe place. Sticking their necks out? Not so much. (Especially true in interviews!)

Here’s a fun one: did you ever wonder why so many companies have suggestion boxes? It’s because employees are too scared to just share their ideas openly. Wild, eh?

I once heard an agent tell a large group of about 75 peers, “Whenever I need a new salesperson, I hire two, and I make sure they both know that one of them is going to get fired.” Welcome to the Hunger Games! Breathtaking.

Bottom line: if your employees are concentrating on how to avoid getting in trouble or fired, you won’t ever get their very best.

Once my team figured out this fear dynamic, we made “Safe” the first formal step in our Employee Growth Model. We nurture new employees for 3-6 months while they’re reconditioned to feel safe. (The trauma from previous jobs takes time to wear off. It’s like the human version of an abused rescue animal.) The uptick in performance is incredible once they lower their defenses.

Is that something your team is experiencing? Not sure?

Here are some suggestions:

  1.  Show genuine interest in your employees and their lives more often.
  2. Encourage your pleasers not to over-stress themselves just to impress you.
  3. Give people lots of opportunities to try new things. That way they get chances to fail and find out that it’s ok.
  4. Let go of trivial preferences that distract them from focusing on results.

Maybe this doesn’t apply to your team. That’s great! I’ll share a couple more reasons for low employee commitment over my next couple of posts.

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