It’s easy to blame disinterested employees for their disinterest. They’re lazy, they’re ungrateful, they don’t care about the company, and so on. Of course, this is true sometimes, but rarely so. Much more often, disinterested employees are the visible evidence of a workplace culture gone off the rails. One way to get back on track? Sharing the greater context.
This piece is part of our Chōwa blog series.
The “Checked Out” Employee
It’s a pop culture meme at this point: The employee staring vaguely at their computer throughout the day, watching the clock, and diving out the door as soon as five o’clock rolls around. (Just think about how many songs have been written about not working!) Is the world just full of lazy people who hate what they do and hate their employers?
More often than not, disinterested employees are the result of the business itself, not the employee.
The Undercover Recruiter explains that lack of interest is a symptom of other problems at work, like feeling:
All of these factors are (to varying extents) things the business can control. But instead, it’s often a horrible chicken-and-egg cycle of under-engaged employees and frustrated employers. As the cycle continues, everyone feels worse and worse, too commonly resulting in high employee turnover.
Especially in the uncertain “coronaconomy,” high turnover can be a real business killer. One way to protect your company is surprisingly simple and cheap.
Taikyoku: Sharing the Bigger Picture
You might have seen the term “Taikyoku” before in the context of the karate kata from the Chinese proverb. In the context of Chōwa, however, we define Taikyoku as “the bigger picture.”
Business leadership needs to do its part to keep employees engaged. As a DevOps company, Inedo strongly believes that work silos kill good work environments. How to break down silos AND increase employee investment? Share the bigger picture.
Why Does It Work?
Picture being assigned a task that seems far outside your area of expertise. You might feel confused, directionless, and maybe even a little angry. Your boss would do better to share the greater context with you, which would clarify the purpose of the task and why you were assigned it. And you’d have a chance to seek additional clarification.
Employers can go a step further and encourage Taikyoku-seeking in the same way they encourage pulling the Andon cord: Employees empowered to safely ask questions will likely become more curious, and it can head off potential problems.
At an even higher level, sharing the greater context of the company itself can do wonders for employee investment. An employee’s work world is frequently very small—much smaller than what, for example, the company Board of Directors experiences. It’s unfair to expect your employees to help you achieve goals they’ve never been told about! When your employees know the larger business goals, you may be surprised at the chances for collaboration and creative problem-solving that surface.
Taikyoku is a low-cost investment for employers: Many sources, like the Harvard Business Review, recommend offering checked-out employees extrinsic motivation (“carrots”) to bring them back into the fold. While these are often things like days off or pay raises, sharing the greater context can be extremely effective and costs only as much time as it takes to write an email or have a conversation.
Taikyoku in Action
A teammate here had worked very hard on a project when, out of nowhere, their manager assigned the next phase of the project to someone else. They were hurt. Had they done a poor job? Did their manager hold a grudge for some reason? Was the manager just a big jerk? Instead of assuming, they reached out to their manager, requesting Taikyoku. The manager shared an explanation missing from the original assignment that contextualized the choice and reduced opportunities to assume. Once everyone understood the context, everyone was comfortable with the choice, and the two teammates found new ways to collaborate on the rest of the project.
Seeking the greater context is a way to help keep employees engaged, but only when it’s not overdone. Employers should remember not to drown their employees in too much context, and employees must remember to be respectful and trust that their bosses are trying to do the right thing always.
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Taikyoku is just one of the many elements of Inedo’s new cultural philosophy of Chōwa, or “natural balance.” We will be explaining the various elements of Chōwa here on our blog and on our social media (Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn). Subscribe to these channels and download your copy today to learn about Inedo’s unique cultural philosophy of Chōwa.