Why Employees Don’t Do What You Want Them To

by Jill Schaefer on March 8, 2018

I once caught one of my former employees watching YouTube videos at length at work. Another employee claimed to work until 5 p.m. every day but had a habit of disappearing for hours and sneaking out early — her work unfinished.

As someone with a fierce work ethic, I didn’t get it. Why wouldn’t they just do what I wanted them to do? Was I asking too much for these employees to work hard and care about quality results? What is going on?

Why are so many employees checked out at work?
Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report found 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work, costing employers $7 trillion in lost productivity!

How did we get here? Didn’t anyone read “What Color is Your Parachute?”

  1. Stuck in a 1970s work culture?

According to Forbes Magazine contributor, Jacob Morgan, the structure of most adults’ 9-5 jobs can run just about anyone into the ground. He describes the stark differences between one’s personal life, in which you make choices of your own free will, and your work life.

“… we have our professional lives where we: commute an hour each way, use company sanctioned technology, sit in cubicles, get 200+ emails a day, are not able to effectively communicate and collaborate, operate under a command and control hierarchy, feel like a cog, and need to get approvals for buying a $100 office chair.”

Suggestions: Try out new work practices, collective leadership, new technologies, honest feedback, and other ways of working, such as flexible schedules.

  1. Invisibility

As cool as this would be for a superhero, it’s alienating for employees. The Harvard Business Review reported that having a “friend” at work not only makes people happier and healthier, but also 7 x more engaged at work.

Researchers suspect that our individualistic culture in the U.S. may stunt interdependent relationships among coworkers. For instance, can you imagine going on vacation with a colleague?!

Even if we get to the point where we sort of have a connection with a coworker, the values of vulnerability, authenticity, and compassion go a long way in helping a workplace feel friendlier and more like a place that you enjoy.

Suggestions: Give genuine praise for a job well done. Say “hello” and make an effort to acknowledge employees. Go beyond meaningless chit-chat.

  1. Motivations

I may be motivated to complete a project whatever it takes, but my intense approach won’t work for everyone. It goes back to the difference between a manager and a leader that I wrote about in “What Does It Take to Be a Good Boss?”.

Biological, intellectual, social, and emotional persuasions influence people’s motivation (internal drive) to do work. What level of communication, recognition, and involvement do your employees need from you?

Suggestions: Find out what motivates your employees. Do they need affirmation? Involvement in decisions? Coaching and mentoring? Space (if you’re prone to micromanaging)?

In the cases of both of my former employees, bigger things were in play. One was struggling with depression. The other was disengaged with her work and our company.

Instead of placing the blame outward, I found it more effective to look inward and adjust my own approach. It wasn’t so much about “why won’t these employees do what I want?” as it was about “how can I adjust my approach?”.

After all, the only person I can control and change is myself.

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Jill SchaeferWhy Employees Don’t Do What You Want Them To