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How De-Energizing Dissatisfied Compromisers Discourage Committed Loyalists (and What You Can Do About It)

What Is a Good Way of Categorizing Employees?

Almost every time we analyze employee survey results, we categorize employees into one of four distinct groups:

    Employee Types
  • Committed Loyalists - these are employees who are passionate about their jobs, are willing to go "above and beyond the call of duty" for their organization and act as important ambassadors by making valuable contributions to both recruiting and branding. Obviously, every organization should make a serious effort to achieve as many Committed Loyalists as possible. Our surveys show, though, that they usually make up only about half of a typical organization's workforce.

  • Satisfied Opportunists - although Satisfied Opportunists are usually quite satisfied with their jobs, they don't demonstrate a high degree of loyalty to any one organization. If a new job opportunity presents itself, Satisfied Opportunists have few reservations about leaving. As a result, they add to an organization's turnover but, luckily, they usually represent fewer than one-in-ten employees.

  • Change Seekers - these employees are already planning their departure, since they are not happy with their jobs and have no intention of staying for the long term. As a result, they account for most of an organization's turnover. In our experience, little can be done to change the minds of individual Change Seekers so an organization's strategy should be to minimize the proportion of Change Seekers within the workforce.

  • Dissatisfied Compromisers - these are an interesting group of employees because they are not satisfied with their jobs but have no intention of leaving. In other words, these are an organization's "quit and stay" employees. It's important to note, though, that most Dissatisfied Compromisers are not "hard wired" to be dissatisfied with their jobs. Rather, there are workplace situations and circumstances that drive them to be dissatisfied.

Fixing those problems is the best way of converting Dissatisfied Compromisers into Committed Loyalists. We've seen this happen time and time again when organizations commit to taking positive action in response to their employee survey results.

We can see from the comments employees make in their surveys that Dissatisfied Compromisers are generally not shy about expressing the frustrations they experience in their jobs. These comments often focus on such key issues as unfairness in how the organization deals with employees, problems with communication within the organization, little or no recognition for the contribution they are making to the organization and a perceived lack of career advancement opportunities. Here are some example quotes to illustrate these feelings:

"There's a simple lack of acknowledgement from my supervisor for doing a good job and that makes me feel unappreciated. I have seen this happen with other employees, causing a serious morale problem within our department. More formal recognition (e.g. spot awards, etc.) once in a while would further enhance a feeling of appreciation IF the supervisor was fair and did not show favoritism when giving awards (a situation I have witnessed firsthand). Also upper management personnel do not appear to show much interest in the work being done because they RARELY visit or have conversation with employees doing the work."

"A lack of strategic planning on part of management, disjoined decisions; reactive policies. I don't feel like management looks at data, information and makes informed decisions. Rather they react to situations and make off the cuff decisions without thinking about implementation or impact of these decisions."

"The biggest challenge is being endlessly patient with discouraging situations and not taking frustrations as personal failures. There are many examples to support this frustration. Then, surprise: & someone responds to a complaint to make work less unnecessarily complex."

"Almost no promotion potential, lack of recognition and a hierarchical system where your opinions and suggestions are weighed by what level your position is."

"No opportunities for advancement/salary raises, no acknowledgement toward good dependable workers you can count on everyday..."

"Unable to have an opportunity to advance and dealing with the retaliation when you try to address the problem."

"That my hard work gets picked apart from upper people who don't even know what kind of work I do from day to day. They only look for the bad, never see the good."

"The lack of advancement and the lack of communication throughout the organization."

"Not being allowed to further my education. I was told that this organization couldn't help pay for me going back to college to further my job-related skills nor would they allow me time off to take classes."

"A lot of selfish activities and negative overtones without just cause."

"My job is not well defined. Also, I get very little feedback on how I am doing. "

"Lack of clear communication especially about important changes that affect my job."

These quotes are good illustrations of the types of comments Dissatisfied Compromisers make in almost every employee survey we have done. I believe that we can draw two key conclusions from these comments:
  1. Each comment summarizes legitimate grievances that are contributing to their poor job satisfaction (which the organization can and should be taking action to correct) AND
  2. They likely do not hide these frustrations and problems from their colleagues. In fact, they are likely pretty open about them.
But does the level of employee job satisfaction really matter? Do high or low levels of job satisfaction affect the performance and productivity of an organization as a whole?

Job Satisfaction and Organizational Performance - Are They Linked?

Based on our extensive experience with employee surveys, we strongly believe that there is a direct link between job satisfaction and organizational performance. But because we don't have access to our clients' performance data, we usually don't have any quantitative data to confirm our intuition.

Luckily, there is a substantial amount of research that proves this relationship using a variety of performance measures. From that literature, here are three examples based on three distinct methodologies:

Job Satisfaction as a Predictor of Corporate Value

Using share market value collected over an extended time period (1984 through 2011), Alex Edmunds found that "firms with high levels of job satisfaction, as measured by inclusion in the list of the 'Best Companies to Work for in America,' generate high long-run stock returns." In other words, the stock market assigns higher value to organizations with higher levels of job satisfaction.

Job Satisfaction as a Predictor of Organizational Productivity

In an interesting Finnish comparison of matched survey and register data in which the measures of productivity and job satisfaction were drawn from separate data sources, the researchers were able to conclude that there is a positive relationship between job satisfaction and productivity although they could not fully quantify the impact.

Job Satisfaction as a Predictor of Business Unit Performance

This meta-study of employee results from almost 8,000 distinct business units concluded that "both overall satisfaction and employee engagement showed generalizability across companies in their correlation with customer satisfaction-loyalty, profitability, productivity, employee turnover, and safety outcomes." Obviously, these are all key measures of performance and, as this study suggests, "it seems clear from these data that companies could learn a great deal about the management talents and practices that drive business outcomes if they studied their own top-scoring employee engagement business units."

The literature suggests a number of different ways that differences in job satisfaction can affect productivity:

  1. More satisfied employees are more likely to engage in higher levels of "organizational citizenship" and, in turn, less counterproductive organizational behavior.
  2. Similarly, more satisfied and engaged employees are less likely to shirk their job responsibilities and tasks, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  3. Less satisfied employees can have a greater tendency to become sick or to take leave even without being ill, in which case their productivity becomes zero.
  4. Job dissatisfaction leads to both higher intentions to leave and actual exits, which we characterize as "Change Seekers". Replacing employees is not only expensive but can also reduce overall productivity, even if the employees being replaced were less productive than the rest of the workforce.
  5. Finally, higher job satisfaction has also been shown to lead to fewer workplace accidents, which also leads to higher productivity.
All in all, then, there appears be a very real and meaningful link between job satisfaction and both employee and organizational performance/productivity. Now that we've established that individual job satisfaction affects organizational performance overall, what if we take this analysis a step further? In particular, what impact do the attitudes and opinions of less satisfied employees - those that we describe as Dissatisfied Compromisers - have on their more satisfied colleagues, especially the Committed Loyalists?

Does Dissatisfaction With Your Job Negatively Impact the Performance of Your Colleagues?

We've always sensed that dissatisfaction with your job can "spill over" onto others and drive down employee morale overall. To some degree, we can see this happening in the comments made by Committed Loyalists, as illustrated in the following examples:

"All of the idiots that I must work with. We have some of the worst, most inefficient boondogglers I have ever seen at this organization."

"Having to deal with unsupportive supervisors who don't know anything about my job and fellow employees who abuse the system."

"Seeing people getting ahead in their positions when they don't do their job well."

"I really don't like having to deal with problem people."

"I work with some less-than-useful people."

"I really have trouble with the work ethics of some of my peers and subordinates."

"I feel very frustrated at what I see as protection of low performing peers."

Not surprisingly, Committed Loyalists have quite a different attitude toward their less satisfied colleagues than Dissatisfied Compromisers have of themselves. Until now, though, we've not have a way to actually measure what impact Dissatisfied Compromisers might be having on the job performance of Committed Loyalists.

In their article on the connection between job satisfaction and productivity in Finland, Petri Böckerman and Pekka Ilmakunnas raised the same question:
"According to the happy/productive worker thesis, the tendency of unhappy people to emphasize negative aspects of their work leads to lower job performance. This holds especially in jobs that require social interaction with coworkers or customers. The unhappy workers may also have negative spill-over effects on the performance of other employees."

Measuring the Effect of De-Energizing Relationships on Employee Performance

Bad CommunicationWe now have a much clearer sense of that impact through some recent work done by a research team consisting of Alexandra Gerbasi (Grenoble Ecole de Management), Andrew Parker (Grenoble Ecole de Management), Christine Porath (Georgetown University), Gretchen Spreitzer (University of Michigan) and Rob Cross (University of Virginia).

In an article called "Destructive De-Energizing Relationships: How Thriving Buffers Their Effect on Performance", the team examined the influence that negative and draining co-workers - "de-energizing relationships," in other words - have on individual job performance. The two hypotheses they set out to prove are as follows:
  1. As the number of de-energizing relationships experienced by an employee increases, that employee's performance will decline and
  2. The negative impact of de-energizing relationships can be mitigated by fostering a sense of "thriving" among employees.
They tested the first hypothesis through a social network study analysis survey of a global IT department in an engineering firm, combining an aggregate measure of job performance by each participating employee's immediate supervisor with a measure of the degree to which these same employees considered their work relationships to be de-energizing. In this first study, Professor Spreitzer and her colleagues found a significant relationship between the number of de-energizing work relationships and poorer work performance.

The team then used a second study, conducted among senior associates and principals at a major management consulting company, to test both hypotheses together. In this study, performance ratings were generated by the annual employee evaluation process, the extent of de-energizing relationships was measured in the same way as Study 1 and thriving was assessed using a validated 10-statement model. From the second study, the team concluded that:
  1. As in study 1, more de-energizing relationships are negatively and significantly associated with performance and, in particular, having more de-energizing relationships is especially predictive of the lowest levels of job performance, and
  2. As the number of de-energizing relationships an employee reports increases, so does the likelihood that thriving will increase the probability they will either meet or exceed their job expectations, which confirms their second hypothesis.
You can also find a summary of this article in the New York Times.

What Does This Mean for Organizations?

So what does all this mean? First of all, this article concludes that "in two field studies, we show that de-energizing relationships in organizations were associated with reduced performance." What this suggests is that the employees we characterize as Dissatisfied Compromisers might not only be less productive than their more satisfied employees but that these dissatisfied employees can further reduce the productivity of the people they work with.

The most important implication of this research is to further reinforce the need for all organizations to actively monitor the level of job satisfaction among their employees. Of course, we strongly believe that Insightlink's 4Cs model of employee engagement is a great way to achieve that.

An employee survey, however, is only the first step, since the results from this type of survey only have value if they are used a springboard to meaningful change within the organization.

In addition needing a systematic strategy for building and maintaining employee satisfaction and engagement, Professor Spreitzer also provides some good practical advice for both employees and managers in this short video.

For managers, to avoid letting de-energizers bring down the morale of the whole team, she suggests that they:
  1. Set standards of appropriate behavior and then enforce those standards,
  2. Consider past behavior as well as skills and abilities when choosing who to promote and
  3. Remember that organizations with happier and more satisfied employees often out-perform their competitors.
And for employees who work alongside de-energizing colleagues, she recommends that they:
  1. Balance the time spent among both more positive and less positive colleagues,
  2. Look to build and/or join teams that take personality into account, rather than basing membership simply on skills and abilities alone and
  3. Make sure that their work is meaningful, since this can act as "jerk armor" when having to deal with those who drain their energy.
thriving employeesSince we shared some negative employee comments at the beginning of this article, let's close on a more positive note by summarizing what "thriving" looks like. When asked what they like most about their work, Committed Loyalists often point to the positive relationships they have (that is, the people who energize them rather than draining them), being engaged in a wide range of job responsibilities, having a strong sense of autonomy and the ability to complete their work as they see best, receiving regular acknowledgment for the contributions they make and forecasting a bright future with the organization:
"The quality of the individuals I work with on a daily basis. The idea we are working to improve situations or problems."

"A sense of accomplishment when a project is done and done well."

"I'm allowed to determine what needs to be done and then do it. I don't like micromanagement. I'm too old for that."

"My work load is very diverse, which keeps my job interesting. I also love the people with whom I work. Our unit has a rare and wonderful mix of people. I also feel valued by my immediate boss."

"I have plenty of responsibilities and am given the opportunity to work out how to best meet those responsibilities. I also feel that upper management values and supports the work that I do."

"The ability to use my creativity and direct my work with relatively little interference from management."

"Challenges are different each day. Colleagues/supervisor are all great people and professionals of the best caliber. Good balance of office and field work. Freedom to try and find new and better ways of getting the job done right. Flexible work schedule. Opportunity to continue education, learning, and career advancement."
In short, these are the types of comments that all organizations should aim to see in their employee survey!

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