Some managers call them “dead people walking,” others call them “retired-on-the-job.” You know who they are – employees who do little more than show up. They do the minimum, offer little or no ideas and are the first ones out the door. They are disconnected, disengaged and disinterested. All businesses need significant contribution from each employee, particularly in this period of being forced to do more with less. Great, profitable employee performance requires motivated, excited and passionate employees – not those who are retired on the job or checked-out. It is time to either get them actively performing or help them formally do what they have informally done…retire.
Today’s get-more-done-with-less economy has revived the focus on accountability and performance. Organizations invest in their employees; for this investment, they expect a return. The greater the return, the greater value the employee has to the organization. Fired up!, excited, passionate and energized employees create great returns. Retired-on-the-job employees offer little or no return. It is critical for managers to assess who they are and why they act as they do.
Who are the retired-on-the-job employees?
These employees are visibly disconnected from their work and the workplace. Generally, they are the first to leave and the last to arrive. They have little or no sense of urgency; they have less accountability. They have limited friendships; most are superficial. They do only what they are told and take little initiative. They have checked out but someone forgot to tell them to just stay home.
Why are there retired-on-the-job employees?
Before I can address this, I need to address what drives performance. All great performance is based on both intellectual and emotional connection. Intellectual connection refers to what an employee is good at – what talents, strengths and natural aptitudes the employee has. Emotional connection refers to what the employee loves to do – what makes an employee passionate and excited at work. I call these two components the “maxperformance formula.” All great performance (personal or professional) always includes both an intellectual and emotional connection. A high performing athlete has the abilities (is intellectually connected) and has the passion (is emotionally connected). A high performing chef is one who is good at what he/she does (intellectually connected) and is passionate about cooking (emotionally connected). A great musician, manager, doctor, truck driver, parent or spouse is first good at what they do (intellectually connected) and passionate about doing it. This combination is the key to all great performance.
The reason for retired-on-the-job performance (in work and in life) is because most people don’t invest the time to understand what they are good at (intellectual connection) and what activates their passions (emotional connection); they don’t know themselves well. Not only was a requirement to “know yourself” core thinking of Plato and the early Greek philosophers, but it is still the foundation of great performance today. We must learn what we are good at, and what engages and inspires us. Spending time with our “self” is the key to reversing the retired-on-the-job syndrome. Without this knowledge, most of us work in jobs (or live lives) that are not a good fit; we do not feel capable, nor inspired. Performance is therefore consistently average. In the workplace, this average performance leads to weak customer relationships, weak results and less return on every payroll dollar invested. In life it can lead to boring lives, troubled relationships and a general state of unhappiness. Though most anyone can be upbeat and motivated for a short time, sustained exceptional performance always requires that we be both intellectually and emotionally connected to what we do.
Let’s review how to get recommitted and re-energized from two perspectives: first, from your perspective – you are a “retired-on-the-job” employee, second from a manager’s perspective – you are managing a “retired-on-the-job” employee.
You are the retired-on-the-job employee
To live and work in a more dynamic, engaging and inspired way, you must first invest in yourself by spending the time learning what you are good at, what you love and what makes you successful. The intersection of these three areas is your power performance core – you are good at it, you love it and it makes you successful. To start this analysis, complete a talent assessment; this will help you see what you are good at. Then list the things that you are passionate about. Finally, list what makes you feel successful. Identify where the three areas intersect. Ask others to be part of your discussion and process. Address all three areas and create a plan to reenergize your approach to work and life.
You manage a retired-on-the-job employee
A manager can help an employee reconnect to great performance. Start first with a look at intellectual connection. Is the employee good at what he does? Is he working in a job or role that matches his talents and strengths? If not, identify opportunities that would be a better fit; consider realigning the employee. Assess the employee’s talents. Find out more information about his values, interests and potential. This will help you see his confidence and competence areas and guide you to know where and how to reconnect him intellectually.
Once reconnected intellectually, it is important to work on the emotional connection. In many circumstances, employees working in their talent areas are also passionately connected to the work. A chef who loves to cook is inspired to work as a chef. An accountant is engaged when the day includes financial analysis and creating financial statements. A retail sales employee is passionate about connecting with other people and building relationships.
Managers can maintain and encourage this level of engagement with “job sculpting.” Job sculpting is the process of customizing each employee’s jobs to allow more of their personal values, interests and passions into their work. It looks to engage and inspire employees in areas that both appeal to the employees and make a difference in the business. It may be an employee who loves to write and can help the business create a customer newsletter. It may be an accountant who is great at coordinating events and is given the responsibility to host the next customer or employee event. Each task or responsibility appeals to the employee (emotional connection) and drives a business response. This activates an employee’s emotional response and moves them from average, bland and retired-on-the-job, to passionate, engaged and excited.
The key to performance is connection – both intellectual and emotional. We are thinking, feeling, caring and complex people – at work and at home. For performance to soar, we must address both areas of connections – we must focus on what we are good at and what we are passionate about. This requires self-understanding and the time and interest commitment to understand our employees. When they are fired up! and passionate (at home and at work), they perform. Only then can we help to end the retired-on-the job response. Only then can we activate their real performance power. And in this economy, we need it.