Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Actively Disengaged

on October 14, 2013

Carrie Fisher Flame Thrower

There are many challenges to being self-employed, but there are so very many benefits.  One of the biggest is that I don’t have to deal with a horrible boss every day.  Yes, sometimes clients can be frustrating, but I only have to deal with them for as long as I’m under contract – as soon as the work is done, the relationship is over.  This is a huge bonus, and one that I am grateful for every day.

Like most people, I’ve had good managers and bad managers.  Sometimes a bad manager is an otherwise great person; they just have no business managing people.  Sometimes a good manager is cold and standoffish, but they know how to keep their people engaged.

That’s the word they use now for caring about your work – “engagement.”  A recent Forbes magazine article describes a sweeping survey performed by the Gallup organization that reveals that only thirty percent of American workers describe themselves as “engaged” in their work (http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2013/09/23/surprising-disturbing-facts-from-the-mother-of-all-employee-engagement-surveys/).

Engaged.  I think that’s an interesting word; it evokes thoughts of passion, love, and commitment, which, in my opinion, is asking a bit much for you to feel about your job, but hey, that’s me.  “Engagement” in workplace terms means that employees are emotionally connected to their work.  They care.

If you don’t care about your work you’re considered to be “disengaged” or “actively disengaged”.  Seventy percent of the over 350,000 people surveyed fell into one of these two categories – a pretty staggering number.

So what does it mean if you’re “actively disengaged”?  That’s more than being just “disengaged”, which is showing up and going through the motions.  Adding “Actively” would indicate that you’re putting some energy into your disengagement.  Actively Disengaged is Carrie Fisher in “The Blues Brothers” after John Belushi jilts her at the altar; it’s flamethrowers and rocket launchers.  It’s disengagement on purpose.  It’s trying to find ways to sabotage your company and your co-workers.  What could possibly prompt someone to work harder at being disengaged than at their job?  According to the Gallup poll, the overwhelming reason is because they have a horrible boss.

I don’t doubt this for a minute.  If you’ve had a horrible boss, you probably don’t either.  A bad boss can suck all of the joy even out of a job you love – even if you like your co-workers, even if you’re making good money and your commute isn’t too bad.  The dread of what mean spirited, spiteful, demeaning, undermining thing your supervisor has in store for you makes going to work a daily nightmare for millions of people.   And it’s killing our businesses – the article estimates that up to $550 BILLION dollars of lost productivity each year can be ascribed to the impact of bad bosses.

And we don’t need to talk about how the bad boss effect bleeds over into our home lives, do we?  How can we be relaxed and happy and present in our marriages and with our children when we spend the majority of our waking hours in an environment that is overtly hostile?

I don’t know if the leaders of corporate America will take notice of this survey.  Maybe they will – the lost productivity figure should get some attention at least.  But most likely they’ll do what they always do, which is talk about it and meet about it and come up with the usual corporate bullshit, and nothing will change.  Not really, not how it needs to change.  So if the answer isn’t with the “leadership”, what can the poor employees do?  As you’ve probably surmised by now, I have a suggestion.

It’s time for employees to stop being afraid.  The system works on fear – fear of losing your job, mostly.  If you have a family to support, I understand that fear.  But silence only perpetuates the problem.  That’s how bullies get away with it – no one is willing to stand up to them and get their face punched in.  And you have to be willing to take the heat.  There is real risk in standing up for yourself.  You can mitigate some of that risk if you can convince your colleagues to join you, but that doesn’t mean you’ll win.  If you do succeed in taking down your bad boss it’s very likely you’ll get taken out, too – nobody likes a troublemaker.  I speak from experience.

The alternative to taking action – legal, ethical, non-violent action – is to do nothing and hope your life gets better.  And it might – I’ve seen karma do its work.  But you can’t rely on it.

So this is the choice: take a stand or stop complaining.  I know that often in these situations you feel trapped; you need your job to pay your bills.   You feel like you can’t do anything to change your situation.  But you can.  Not easily, not without risk.  But if you do nothing, risk nothing, then nothing is what will happen.

I’m not trying to make you feel like a coward for choosing to keep your head down – I understand completely.  But I can tell you for sure that losing your job because you took a stand is not the end of the world.  I know this because that’s what happened to me – I stood up and, ultimately, got taken out.  Would I do it again?  Probably.  Do I regret it?  Absolutely not.  I have found so much more than I lost.

So, if you work for a horrible boss, start keeping a log of the bad behavior.  Find others who will support you.  Take your concerns to HR.  Talk to an employment lawyer.  Stand up for yourself.  If your boss is just a bully they might back down; most bullies are cowards.  Be prepared for retaliation, but move ahead anyway.  Take hope in the fact that today there is much more awareness of the impact of bad bosses, so there’s an increased possibility that your concerns will be taken seriously.  And if none of that works, quit.  And tell them why.   You might not get things changed for yourself, but your efforts may help others, and that is always worth doing.  Just don’t do nothing.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

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