Employee Disengagement Case Study
A recent book on the attitudes of Boeing management and employees called Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers (2010) gives an interesting case study of an organization in distress, with lessons to be learned on the repercussions of, as one reviewer put it, "mass layoffs, heavy outsourcing of their jobs, relentless cost-cutting and a dizzying pace of change."
The findings are based on a four waves of employee surveys conducted between 1996 and 2006. They document a feeling of betrayal among the Boeing workforce, with a poor sense of engagement affecting every level of the organization. One of the most notable shifts is that from a feeling of shared experience and respect among employees and management to a sense of disenchantment among the Boeing workforce, who began to distance themselves emotionally from the company they had once admired:
"The notion of Boeing as a family, where employees' contributions were respected as a source of competitive advantage, was a thing of the past, replaced by Boeing as a team where people and positions were expendable or interchangeable with other workers around the world."
Among the key lessons are:
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- Recurring episodes of mass layoffs leave employees increasingly uncertain and worried, "with little evidence that the experience becomes less unsettling or troubling because workers had been through it before." This uncertainty, in turn, leads to lower commitment and great cynicism toward management.
- The increased use of technology can create a feeling of ambivalence among employees, who could see that "there were certainly efficiency benefits ascribed to many technological innovations, but many employees were not always convinced that technology offered substantial effectiveness benefits."
- Too strong an emphasis on outsourcing can leave an organization lacking in terms of critical skills needed in production and oversight.
- Increased uncertainty in the workplace can clearly have a detrimental impact on the physical and emotional health of employees.
- The authors conclude that an organization cannot long thrive if the relationship between management and employees remains, at best, strained and, at worst, hostile. If Boeing management agrees, then rebuilding employee trust should be among their top priorities.