Based on our research and experience, there are a lot of frustrated people in today’s organizations.
We’re not referring to demotivated or turned off employees. That group is likely to be too checked out to experience personal stress or conflict over their inability to get things done.
Rather, we’re talking about employees who are aligned with goals and objectives and who are enthusiastic about making a difference—but are held back by jobs that do not suit them or work environments that get in their way.
From a motivational perspective, managers have these employees where they want them. But when it comes to ensuring that they are as productive as possible, managers are missing out.
Our data indicates that frustrated employeesmake up 20% or more of the workforce of a typical company.
Yet the problem is all too often overlooked. Insofar as employee opinion surveys and other employee feedback programs have traditionally focused on employee satisfaction, commitment, and engagement, they commonly fail to highlight issues related to the supportiveness of work environments. And frustrated employees are often reluctant to voice their concerns in other ways. Highly committed to their employers and their jobs, they may be disinclined to make waves by complaining about their situations – and those who do speak up may be unlikely to press the point if work arrangements are seen as unlikely to change. As a result, many suffer in silence.
In this case, what you don’t know can hurt you. And, to make matters worse, managers don’t have much time to act. Given the tension involved for employees, frustration is an inherently unstable state. Where strong motivation to succeed is not paired with similar levels of support in the work environment, employees can be expected to respond in one of three ways – most often within a time span of 12 months or less:
- Break through. It’s true that some employees may, through force of effort, find ways to break through the barriers presented by low levels support and upgrade their work arrangements to match their motivational levels.
- Break down. Other frustrated employees may find equilibrium by reducing their motivation to match their limited opportunities to succeed. Weary of beating their heads against a wall, they may simply decide that giving their best effort is not worth their time and stop trying.
- Break away. Still other frustrated employees, especially high performers or high potentials, can be expected to vote with their feet and leave in search of greener pastures where they stand a better chance of succeeding.
What’s the message for today’s organizations struggling to get the most from their people? The commitment and discretionary effort offered by engaged employees can be squandered if managers are not careful to ensure that roles and work environments allow them to channel their extra efforts productively. In a real sense, workplace frustration is the enemy of engagement.
Instead of concentrating exclusively on fostering higher levels of motivation, managers need to take better advantage of the motivation they already have. That is, the modern emphasis on engaging employees has to be matched with a similar commitment to enabling them. Targeted at anyone charged with managing the day-to-day activities of a group of employees, the bookis intended to help managers understand workplace frustration and the negative consequences it has on individuals and organizations, diagnose it and its root causes within their teams, and take effective action to promote higher levels of employee enablement to unleash the full potential of their people.
Mark Royal and Tom Agnew are senior consultants in Hay Group’s employee research division and the co-authors of the new book, "The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frustration – and Get the Most from Your Employees."Royal is based in Chicago and Agnew in New York City.
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