Year after year Gallup tells us the majority of employees are not engaged at work. Solutions are yelled from the sidelines. More surveys! Well-being! Recognition! Recruitment! Anyone else feel like we’re being a sold an array of magical cure-all diet pills that has a lot of disclaimers in the fine print?

At any point I’m sure that any one of these things could make a difference. Most are valid. The question is, how many organisations have done the underlying diagnostics to figure out which one, or combination of ones, they need? Insulin works great if you’re a diabetic. It’s not going to help your asthma.

Let’s step back a bit and look at the experience of many workplaces.

Policies, rules, and processes build up over a period of time. IT systems fail to keep track with current needs. Strategic plans drive growth agendas when the basics are shaky at best. The product or service we’ve always offered doesn’t quite seem to hit the mark anymore. How often do we go back and see if what we do is actually working? You know, like journey mapping. Ain’t nobody got time for that. That takes resources. Money. Effort. We’re doing the work.

So we see conflicting requirements. Repetitive steps. Duplication between departments. Wasted effort. Silos. Resource allocation that doesn’t to align with business need. Decision-making based on maintaining personal power or clout, not an organisational aerial view.

Then I hear six terrifying words. In my mind’s eye the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller starts. We’ve. Always. Done. It. This. Way. You hear the door slam and realise there’s nowhere left to run.

In this space employee engagement is like the pot plant in accounts that everyone forgot to water.

I turn up for work. I do my job. If I wandered around the office I might hear people say things like:

“They don’t pay me to do that.”

“That’s not on my job description.”

“I can’t do that now. I’m going on my break.”

If a customer problem comes up, the customer gets passed around from person to person, department to department. Nothing gets resolved. No one is able to look at the customer problem end to end, or reach a solution.

Collaboration is like a unicorn. It gets spoken about. It’s pretty. Maybe it’s even an organisational value. But no one’s ever seen it in the wild.

There are so many landmines in the forest of collaboration that there’s no motivation to go there. There’s a dark path with a faded warning sign that says do not enter. We hear stories about the person that time who braved the path and was never seen again.

In this environment the list of things I can’t do is pretty big. So is the list of things I theoretically could do, but if you’re going to make me venture into the dark forest of collaboration without my breadcrumbs to guide me back I’ll give it a miss thanks. It’s relatively safe and warm here in my open plan cubicle, and the snacks they put out to keep me engaged aren’t bad so I’m not going to starve. My minimum effort is fuelled by coffee, and the huddle around the coffee machine is a great trauma support group that reminds me that everyone else thinks this place sucks too, so that’s my wellbeing covered. Good job everyone! Hey! Recognition!

Have you seen workplaces like this? What are your experiences?

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