How Employee’s go Bad?
By George Zeeks
Dysfunctional At the Top?
All organizations go through a period of time in which they become dysfunctional, some make it through this period and some do not. The problem can stem from the top of the organization, its structure, or from the employees themselves. Research on organizational dysfunction is the study of the organization as an entity, a living breathing organism comprised of all it’s of the members and of the parts from which it is made of. Looking at the organization as a whole and then breaking down the component parts, we can see where the problems begin and the effect it has on the entity as a whole. The breakdown in the organization shows itself during periods of stress but the root causes are already in place before they begin to manifest themselves. Most of the data that I have found has been focused on the corporate level and much of that does not apply in this instance. I have tried to condense the research in the field and filter it down so that we get a clearer picture of what happens specifically in the automotive field.
If we start with the members that make up the group, we may be able to get a clearer picture of what happens as the organization begins to break down. The breakdown does not have to be total. It can begin with a single person, section, or an area in the body as a whole. The symptoms are basically identical, regardless of the number of people involved. Each employee of an organization has psychological contract with their employer. A change in the way the organization/employer operates results in a change in the contract with the employee. This contract has to be reestablished, with both people and groups agreeing that the change is good and will benefit everyone involved. If we do not have the “buy in” of the all of the members then a specific chain of events begins to occur. We may see a steady progression through all of the steps or it may appear to jump through a step. That does not mean that the employee did not go through a step, it just means that the symptoms were kept hidden and never became outwardly apparent. The four basic steps are as follows:
1. Denial/bargaining- the employee/group may have become used to the tasks that they are responsible for. The longer the employee has held those tasks to be primary to their job function, then the more likely they are to be resistant to change. As new or different priorities begin to affect their role in the organization, the “buy in” on the importance of the new functions must be obtained from the employee. Let’s use an employee named Bob as an example. Bob is happy in is job and his current tasks involve task A and B. The organization has decided that, for the good of the organization, Bob will also have to perform task C and task D. If Bob is not happy with the new tasks and no new “contract/buy in” is established, then Bob may very well choose to perform some of the tasks but not all of them. He may choose to perform task A and task C but not task B or task D. He may attempt to negotiate his new role or worse, just deny the task altogether in the hope that it may be overlooked. The beginning of any change in the organization must include close measurement and individual accountability for the tasks that have been assigned. Without the measurement and accountability, Bob’s denial goes unnoticed and we begin to move to the next stage.
2. Apathy- Bob has not been held accountable for his lack of compliance to the new roles he has been given. No action has been taken. Bob begins to become apathetic to all of his tasks. His self image of his importance to the organization begins to falter. He is becoming a “clock monkey”. He comes to work each day and performs some or none of his tasks but may appear to be working as usual. The sooner his accountability to the tasks assigned is questioned, the more likely that Bob can be saved. A new psychological contract can still be established but the likelihood of that has dropped to approx 75%. The longer he is able to continue without being “found out” the more likely it is that he will move to the next stage.
3. Aggression- Now that Bob’s lack of performance has become apparent, he is confronted by his supervisor as to why he has not been complying with the new order. Bob may start by blaming others for his lack of task attention. It may be a coworker, the new systems in place, or even his supervisor. The aggression may escalate to verbal or physical outbursts that stem from his frustration with the changes that have taken place. Again, the longer the employee has been entrenched in the old systems, the more extreme this stage may become. This stage and its symptoms depend largely on the nature of the individual and may even been perceived as “whining” if the person is introverted and not able to openly express his opinions. At this point, we have approximately a 50% chance of saving Bob by establishing the new “buy in”. If Bob’s aggression is not recognized, perhaps by a supervisor that avoids confrontation, then Bob will move into the last stage.
4. Absence- this stage may begin with Bob coming in late, leaving early. It may progress to the point where Bob is calling in sick or even no-show, no-call with no explanation. This may coincide with aggressive behavior when confronted with his absence. At this point, there is only approximately a 20% chance of saving Bob as a functional employee. The root problem of all these steps again, goes back to measurement and accountability for the tasks assigned to him. The lack of the employer/supervisor to perform their job appropriately has allowed a once contributing member of the organization to decay to the point of termination.