Think it’s harsh to call your employees selfish? It’s not. The truth is, we all look out for ourselves on some level. If you think that your employees are selfless martyrs dedicated solely to your company, then you’ll likely be disappointed.
With this in mind, keeping your employees aligned with your business mission is extremely important if you hope to find long-term success for your company.
Imagine that you’re the head of a local construction firm. Your business has been growing steadily for the past number of years, and you’ve recently hired three new employees to fill open positions in the company.
- Dave is 45 and was drafted in as a crew leader.
- Sarah is 33 and is to put to work as an office administrator.
- James is 24. Brand new to the industry, he’s working as a project engineer.
What do they all have in common?
Well, for starters, they’re all working for you now. However, that’s not what we’re really talking about… No, what matters is that, for each of these people, their job is not what matters most to them.
Dave has three kids – his oldest daughter is planning on attending college next fall. He’s looking to earn as much as he can in order to make sure he can put her through school.
Sarah is a single mother, and she cares more about spending time with her child and being able to provide for his needs than your business.
As for James? He’s young – he’s simply trying to learn the ropes in the industry, with an eye to establishing his own firm someday.
These three examples, while made-up, are not too dissimilar to those which you’ll see in a typical workplace.
*It’s unwise to assume that everyone who works for your company is as passionate about it as you are. If you’re the founder/co-founder of your organization, it’s likely that you’ll be a lot more invested in the enterprise than the average employee. Emotionally, financially, and physically, you’re significantly more wrapped up in the success and failure of the business than a relative outsider is.*
As well as this, it’s a simple truth that not everyone is in a job that they’re passionate about. From Tesla Motors to Walmart, to Facebook, to Congress, there are people doing jobs that they would rather not be doing. Not everyone in your organization is going to have a deep, profound love for their work… but that’s not necessarily a problem.
It’s only a problem if their lack of passion interferes with their job performance – and you can take steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
How do you deal with a selfish employee?
1. Job Satisfaction – What Really Matters?
Here’s the reality of the situation: if a large portion of your workforce is working in routine blue-collar or white-collar positions (emphasis on the routine part), then it’s unlikely that they’re all going to be highly engaged in their work.
Autonomy and the opportunity to exercise creativity in your role are often cited as two of the biggest determinants of employee engagement. People want to have full control over their actions, and they desire a certain level of freedom when it comes to dealing with the task of the hand.
If you’re being honest, can you really say that all the positions in your firm (from paper-pushing to bricklaying) offer employees freedom and self-determination?
It’s likely that the answer to this question is a resounding “no”.
That said, this certainly doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to grapple with a disengaged workforce for all eternity, forever trying to get just a little more from people who are unwilling to give anything beyond the bare minimum.
There are other factors to consider when we’re discussing employee engagement.
A positive environment helps – people who have good relationships with their coworkers report higher levels of job satisfaction, higher levels of productivity, and more motivation in general.
Mastery also matters. Being stuck in a job with limited potential for improvement or advancement often kills employee engagement: you merely need to consider the fact that McDonald's has an annual crew member turnover rate of 80-90%, while managerial turnover is just 20%.
We don’t need to think very hard to understand why this is the case: managers have more autonomy, more opportunity to exercise creativity in dealing with new situations, and more opportunity to develop their skills in a variety of areas.
Conversely, a typical crew member’s activities are limited in scope, with little opportunity for personal growth. There are only so many burgers you can flip before you get sick of the repetitive nature of the task.
This is something that often plays out better in skilled trades. While the stressed-out, overworked, poorly paid McDonalds employee has no choice but to either lose themselves in their menial duties or quit, a skilled tradesperson has the opportunity to grow and develop as time passes.
An experienced plumber, carpenter or painter is an artist, capable of doing and seeing things that greener recruits can scarcely believe. Their greater skill in all areas of performance is a promise to those who come after them, an example of how things could be – if they stick with it.
People like to feel valued. Having a strong network of social relationships in the workplace is one way of achieving this. Developing mastery in a particular trade is another way they can feel valued.
However, what if they don’t care about becoming top performers for their own sake?
What if the tedium of their job overshadows the friendships it facilitates?
In this case, you need to supply people with the means to achieve what they want.
2. Giving It All To Get What You Want
Let’s change course, and return to the three people we discussed at the start of this piece.
Dave has 20 years of experience in the industry. He’s very good at his job and enjoys good relationships with his colleagues… but that’s not what really matters to him. What matters most to him is giving his daughter the chance to have a life he never had.
Sarah is good at her job, but ever since her child was born, she’s realized that working 55 hours a week on a fixed schedule just isn’t a priority anymore.
James wants to learn everything he needs to know in order to someday run his own business: he doesn’t care so much about becoming the best engineer he can be.
So how can you extract top performance from these three individuals? How can you motivate them to work for the furtherance of your business?
Simple – you just need to show them how your goals are totally compatible.
As a business owner, your goal is your grand vision, the impact you wish to have upon the world. Depending on how much you’ve thought about this, you could desire to build a nationally recognized business, to dominate your local region, or just to be able to pay yourself a nice salary
*No matter the goal, and no matter the industry, it’s true that focusing on improving the quality of your service to increase revenues via client retention and word-of-mouth referrals (while keeping costs reasonably low) is the way forward.*
Once you’ve gotten clear on your vision, you need to figure out why your employees should care about providing a higher level of service while keeping costs down. You need to be able to demonstrate why helping you to achieve your goals will help them to get closer to theirs.
This process can be very general, or highly specific, like this:
Dave wants to earn more money to make sure his daughter gets through college comfortably? Perfect – he’ll be willing to work more overtime, and his expertise in driving projects forward is exactly what you need. If your organizational goal is to successfully complete more jobs with less wastage, maybe you can offer him a reasonable percentage of the savings on every job that comes in under budget: that’s sure to motivate him to work harder.
Does Sarah want to spend more time with her child? You can offer her the opportunity to work on a flexible schedule or organize in-house daycare: that’s sure to make her feel better about putting in the hours when she’s needed.
Does James want to run his own firm? Well, if ever hopes to do that, he’ll have to deeply understand everything about the business… and there’s no better way to do that than for him to get involved in improving the company’s operations.
Rather than hiring an outside consultant to do this work (at considerable expense), James can take on these duties as a learning opportunity. Who knows, maybe when the day comes, he’ll receive a little backing from your company to get his firm off the ground?
The above are merely examples, but it’s clear that this approach can work in lots of different situations. So, let’s wrap this up with the takeaway points…
Your employees don’t need to be passionate about the work for its own sake.
If you can show them why helping you to achieve your goals (bigger revenues, lower costs, better quality of service) will help them to achieve their goals (spend more time with their family, gain experience for another venture, or provide for their loved ones), you won’t have an issue with employee engagement.
If you fail to address their desires, and just expect them to fully commit to an organization that doesn’t attend to their needs, then you can’t be surprised when your employees slack off, make poor decisions, don’t put in enough effort or quit their jobs.
Don’t make this mistake. Sit down with your employees. See what they truly desire out of their job, and figure out how you can work together to make this a reality.
If you do this, you’ll be able to rely on a workforce that’s wholeheartedly committed to helping you succeed, just as you are committed to them.