Management Articles


Subtle Acts of Sabotage
How companies sabotage employee passion

By: Jody Urquhart

Author of “All Work & No SAY," Jody Urquhart,, speaks at meetings and conventions on How to Build a Passionate & Commiteed Workplace. To book Jody to speak at your next meeting email her at

Why Not Take All of Me?

In the background played the passionate lyrics of the song “All of me…. Why Not Take All of Me?” How appropriate. Frank Sinatra sings about the desire for his romantic partner to accept him for all of who he is, thoughts, opinions and feelings. Why not take all of me? The very same thing we longed for at work. We met on Fridays’ at the Lions Den Restaurant. Our conversations were very animated, stimulating, and intriguing. We would spar for endless hours with each other over serious and the most trivial debate. We took turns as we each had our say and our opinion was heard. But like the same animal with different stripes, these same fascinating creatures would become bored, uninterested and uninspired come Monday morning. These were my co-workers. We worked at a large bank where we were expected to do the job efficiently as set out by our job description. Our thoughts, opinions, feelings and input were discouraged. The same lively banter from Friday evening was inconceivable at the office. Managers set ferocious goals and we were there prey in this aggressive environment. To defend ourselves we would blend in with our surroundings, so as not to draw attention. In this highly controlled culture, we disconnected from our co- workers, worse we disconnected from ourselves. As a method of coping and survival, we left part of ourselves out of the job- the creative, intuitive, opinionated, engaged part. We were complacent. We craved to involve more of our skills and uniqueness. We weren’t very committed to the job, because the company wasn’t very committed to us. Our managers didn’t want our input in the job; they took the bite out of the work. Yet linked together in our ambivalence, we could shield ourselves from other promising opportunities. Our passion for the work was lost in the day- to- day trivialities of work. Routine, unchallenging activities subtly sabotaged our passion for the work.

Love the Job Your With?

Does Corporate America have a Passion Problem? That’s like asking, “Do cows produce milk?” The answer is obvious. Studies continually show that turnover is high and job satisfaction is low. Organizations make it hard to “love the job your with” when they keep denying the strengths and input of their people. They erect monumental barriers to true passion on the job. People want more from their work. We can’t afford to have uninspired, uninvolved people working just for a paycheck. A disengaged workforce will become bored and put in just the bare minimum. The workplace where employees make careless and unnecessary mistakes, trust is low and where turnover and negativity are high. Subtle acts of sabotage.

The Commitment Conundrum

It means people are continually wondering, “Is this a job or a one night stand? A quick buck or a life calling?” In the blur of corporate success, lost in the shuffle, are the individuals who came together to transform the enterprise into that strategic position. Feeling left out of the picture, disgruntled employees leave and you have to start all over again. The bond between employee and client is severed. Their knowledge and skills are lost and have to be replaced. Others will have to pick up the slack and someone has to train an innocent newcomer to take over that position. There may be harboring ill feelings or miscommunications about why that person had to quit. Others may privately (or worse!), publicly envy them for jumping ship. Yes, it is costly to lose an employee. Yet, if people are committed to their job they stay aboard much longer and weather the tumultuous times.

To ensure employees remain with a business, you have to:
  1. Identify the positive aspects of the business that make them want to say

  2. Emphasize those aspects
Other factors that may influence your employees’ desire to stay are:
  • Benefits

  • The SAY they have in their work

  • Pleasant working environment

  • Opportunity for growth/ advancement

  • Pay

  • Job Security

The Ungrateful Dead
The alternative may be a workforce that ungratefully collects their paycheck and works in a catatonic slumber. A true martyr to their job, they are the ungrateful dead. Every organization has them and they cost a lot. These oblivious species are not easy to recognize either, they so easily camouflage and hide behind the more productive workers. Someone who is doing a below average job doesn’t regularly jump up and down and draw attention to themselves. And you can’t really punish someone for being indifferent and detached. Maybe that’s their personality. So most often managers just ignore them. They may discuss the indignant employee behind closed doors with other managers, but rarely to the employees face.

Chatting Up the Indifferent
How do we recognize, motivate or if necessary terminate these creatures? Give them their say; let them fess up to their indifferent attitude. If you give people a chance to explain why they feel the way they do, you can see how it is affecting their performance. Through this process people become more accountable. Many indifferent workers come from the perspective that as a manager if you don’t care about them, why should they invest their energy in doing their best for you? Engaging peoples’ thoughts, opinions and feelings about their work shows them that you care. Studies show that over 50% of communication is non- verbal, so employees pick up on your non- verbal cues just as you pick up on theirs. They may think you just don’t like them and be indifferent towards you. Clear the air by engaging them. Get their input and involve and empower them in key projects that speak to their skills and interests. Let them be accountable for their own results. Through some coaching you will pick the bad apples from the good and know which of the ungrateful dead really need to be terminated.

Over the long run the returns are great. The goal after all is to make people more purposeful and committed. Like a snowball that picks up speed as it collects more snow rolling down the hill- passion, skills and commitment accumulate and build once it has a core as its’ anchor. The core of the snowball hardens and solidifies like the core of their purpose and commitment becomes stable.

Tangible Intangibles
Here’s the rub. Most of the things that bring about passion and commitment in the workplace are intangible. Often called “ soft” issues. Usually because you can’t quantify them, they aren’t considered scientifically sound. How do you quantify the dollar value of a trusting work environment? How do you judge the value of a manager that brings out the best in people? How do you quantify the value of a passionate and committed workforce? Yet, these intangibles are what will make or break an organization in the twentieth century. Just because you can’t quantify it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. “People do business with people they trust,” yet trust is intangible.

An organizations biggest chance to get ahead of their competition is through a commitment to intangibles. Many consumers today buy solely on price. Companies who charge a premium justify it through intangibles. Customers are willing to pay more to do business with first class organizations they trust, who value their business, treat their employees well, and have sound management principles.

Passion in Action
Picture a passionate workplace. Like a car relies on gasoline to move, the passionate workplace revolves around people to get to where it wants to go. Employee thoughts, feelings and opinions fuel operations. People are naturally accountable because it is their ideas that are being incorporated, and they want to see them through. Ideas and solutions are anything but conventional because instead of ignoring the hard questions, people relish the challenge. In a clutch situation, people can shift gears easily instead of waiting for the automatic transition to kick in. This is a workplace where people don’t need to be told what to do because they know they are trusted enough to think on their feet and solve problems. People are accountable for their actions because there is a sense of pride in individual accomplishment. Best of all, people are committed to a company that seeks to bring out their best.

The only way to avoid sabotaging peoples passion and commitment to the work is to engaging people’s input. Equip the organization for conversations with the key players, your staff. Hear them out and get them talking. Include and involve their inputs and keep the dialogue going. Sounds simple right? Well, if it were just a few co-workers on a Friday night at their favorite restaurant, maybe. Organizations are constantly changing in response to the environment and the needs of their customers. We need to provide the culture and framework to allow for continuous dialogue and for employees to be engaged in their passion.

© Copyright 2001 Jody Urquhart

Other Articles by Jody Urquhart

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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