The Marginalized Employee: A Tale of Disengagement

cat with vacuum cleanerI recently had some conversations with a dear friend who is frustrated at work. Frustrated enough to adopt the mantra (as he succinctly put it) – “I am learning to not even care.”

And he is, by nature, a very caring person.  He still cares about his customers, his company, and his performance.  He continues to focus on results and doing the best job he can.  But his joy, delight and mojo has left the building.  The energy – the effort! – he’s always put forth has been dialed down a few several many notches.

We can argue all we want about ‘attitude’ being a personal choice.  We can exhort people to show up at work and put their nose to the grindstone.  But we can’t, and we know it, make people give a sh*t.  And then, when they don’t give a sh*t, we wonder “why.”  We point to surveys and studies and reports and lament the lack of employee engagement – the lack of discretionary effort.  We look internally and pat ourselves on the back for doing it right – and decide it must be that individual.  That lazy employee.  That person who just shows up to collect a paycheck.  “We’ll never change that person”, we decide.

And deep down we know that’s a crock.  We’re afraid – quite often – to take a real hard look at how things really are in our companies.  Am I right?

My friend is a perfect example of how an organization can make someone a statistic and cause an individual to become yet another ‘disgengaged employee.’  A few  of the happenings at ABC Corporation:

  • A command and control management culture has returned after a brief hiatus.  Orders once again come trickling down from on high (through layers of management) and employees are expected to execute.  There is no input, no discussion and no questioning.
  • As are many others at his organization he is effectively out of the loop.  Business decisions and organizational strategies – even those which directly impact how he does his job – are not shared.  He operates in a vacuum – a giant corporate soul-sucking Dyson.  It may be the fancy kind with the patented cyclone technology – but it’s certainly not a vacuum with desirable features.
  • His position, one that is absolutely critical to success in the organization, has been relegated to the sidelines.  “Do as you’re told until we tell you to do differently.  That information is on a need-to-know basis.  And you don’t need to know.”




So when he says “I am learning to not even care,” it’s because that’s what he’s being taught.

Not exactly what’s meant by employee learning and performance, is it?


  1. Dave Reid says:

    Great piece- this is more commonplace than you would think. But, often this is ignored by top management.

  2. Kathleen Mangiafico says:

    I’m convinced, it’s going to take The Baby Boomers and a good chunk of Gen Xer’s to retire before we can feel the effects of “change management”!

    • Heidi says:

      Hardly an age issue…I have a 30 something boss who is all command and control…i know all too well what the inside of a vacuum looks like. Don’t pin this merely on the boomers or gen ex… there are some pretty innovative thinkers who are not all fresh out of grad school.

    • In our case it isn’t Baby Boomers. Some Xers but more Millennials. They have just entered the workplace but think they already know everything and trample anyone’s ideas but their own- very self-centered. I have tried to provide some rationale to why some things are done a certain way and they won’t have it. Now, as they work their way through the organization we are experiencing chaos in organization and planning with only a few knowing how things work. Senior staff, award staff, some with doctorates, are ignored as junior members are allowed to redesign well-laid plans without any review or understanding of why they were. Some things I say ok, change is good and other things, it is a disaster.

    • Tubalcain says:

      Here we go again, “the evil Baby Boomers” are the root cause of all societal and workplace woes.

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