The client was exasperated. He had had an employee ask to be left on furlough and as the MD he was astounded that someone would actually want to stay at home, after six months already, and do nothing. Particularly when most people were itching to get back to work, particularly when the business could see rising demand ahead of them and particularly when one of the business’s founders had been seriously ill for a number of years and had rarely had so much as a day off.
This wasn’t based on any anxiety about the workplace. This, he felt, was idleness winning out over endeavour and he couldn’t understand it.
I don’t think this has anything to do with the pandemic other than the furlough scheme has allowed something that had probably been there for a long time to become visible. If people don’t feel that the stuff they do every day has a significance or a purpose, sooner or later they are going to question why they are spending their time doing it. If the only answer we can come up with is ‘to get paid’ then this becomes a totally transactional contract and the deal is to give the minimum input (work) and demand the maximum output (pay).
It is one of the most important tasks of leadership to constantly and repeatedly inspire others with the core purpose of the enterprise. When we do that effectively, the contract has an emotional backbone to it, as well as a transactional one. It is a key role of leadership to help everyone understand that the work they do is worthwhile, that it serves a higher purpose, that it is important.
As Homer Simpson once said “If adults don’t like their jobs they don’t go on strike. They just go in every day and do it really half-arsed”.
By liking their jobs he means finding their work worthwhile. Clearly in the example above we had failed to demonstrate how worthwhile the work that the employee was doing was, in a way that meant something to him. That is a failure of leadership, not the employee.
Ironically the work that the business is involved in could literally change the world. If they can fail to communicate the importance of it, where does that leave you and your business?
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