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Alicia Blain

Employee Dissastisfaction


If my boss tells me, ‘not now’ one more time, I’m going to scream”.  That was Katie, one of the many Gen Yers in my professional circle.  She was frustrated once again by her boss and his inflexibility in trying something new. “He keeps making excuses about our team’s workload, our time constraints, the budget to shut down any ideas we bring to him”. 

I explained to Katie that “not now” was the leadership code word for “that makes me uncomfortable”.   After observing Millennials for so long, I realize that they come to the workplace with a different microchip imbedded in their DNA.  When that microchip gets activated by such things as: presenting a new idea, recommending a new but untried process, collaborating with people outside your team, the seasoned leader or manager gets another sampling of the unfamiliar and they don’t like the feeling. 

The savvy and astute leaders use that sampling either as a way to test the tried and true or to experiment with something new.  They see the opportunity to do things differently that the Gen Yers are bringing to the workplace and they go with it.  Most leaders just say “Not now. We’re too busy, too understaffed, too [fill in the excuse du jour].”  “Not now” lets them hold on to the past. It lets them ensure continuity of the way they’ve always done things, it provides a safe haven from the unfamiliar. 

To a sharp and eager Gen Yer looking for motivation and a way to stand out, “not now” is like taking a dip in freezing cold ocean water in January.  It takes your breath away but not in a good way.  For 20-somethings like Katie, getting told “not now” repeatedly is a let-down and a HUGE motivation killer.  Why should she continue to bring up ideas when all she’ll get is a lame reason designed to uphold the tried and true.  What ultimately happens with that inflexibility in leadership style is that talented people like Katie either leave or stop caring. They stop trying to bring their unique and much needed perspective into the workplace.  Either way, the organization loses out on capitalizing on her talent. It also loses out on getting comfortable with change.  Can any organization today afford that?  Yet, time and time again you can see many bosses across countless organizations emulating Katie’s boss’ behavior. 

My question is:  how long can we allow “not now” to continue? How long until it hurts the team and the organization?  Holding on to what has worked in the past is a recipe for failure if it’s not constantly being tested or reassessed for its value going forward.  Gen Yers have some great ideas to share in the workplace that test the tried and true.  That should be embraced by leaders of forward looking organizations. Some of the ideas may not work but I can guarantee that everyone will learn and be better off by trying them out. 

By leading the Millennials, I learned that “not now” couldn’t hold a candle to “let’s give it a try”. I just had to get comfortable saying it. I realized that “Not now” fed my fear of the unknown while “let’s give it a try” gave me possibilities.  It was also music to the ears of the Millennials in my team.  It gave them hope that things could change and that their input could make a positive difference at work.

So what about you?  Do you catch yourself saying “not now” a lot at work?  Replace it one time with “Ok. Let’s give it a try” and you’ll see that the world does not fall apart.  Maybe you’ll see your Gen Yers light up with hope instead of mope with disappointment.

Since I left corporate to start my business a few years ago, I’ve had a steady stream of inquiries from friends and colleagues about getting out of corporate. For some reason, over the last few months, those inquiries have increased significantly.  Now these are bright, talented individuals making very decent incomes who are absolutely miserable and disgusted with corporate life.  I point that out because many times people think it’s just the 20-somethings that are complaining about corporate life. No, folks.  It’s not just the Gen Yers – it’s Xers and lots of Boomers doing the complaining.

In every case , without exception, when I dig a little bit to find out what is at the root of the unhappiness, it turns out to be poor leadership.  There are many reasons given.  Here’s the top 10 list of complaints:

  1. My boss has no clue what’s going on in the team.
  2. My boss is a very good [fill in the expertise – salesperson, accountant, lawyer] but he’s a lousy manager.
  3. My boss doesn’t stick up for us and caves in to the demands of other departments or higher ups.
  4. The staff isn’t getting a raise but the higher ups are getting outrageous bonuses this year.
  5. My boss is so afraid of losing her job that she refuses to listen to new ideas we’ve presented that can help the team.
  6. My boss listens to people who are out of touch with the realities of what the team faces.
  7. My boss is not well respected by the higher ups or his colleagues and is ineffective.
  8. My boss is just holding on long enough to get retirement.
  9. My boss has a sink or swim mentality.
  10. My boss has no time for his employees.

Any of these ring a bell?  Which ones resonate the most with you?  What complaint isn’t on there that you feel strongly about? For me, the ones that would put me over the edge were #1, 3, 5 and 7.

After listening to so many people repeat these reasons over and over again, I wondered how so many leaders could be so clueless about how their employees felt? I realize that employees aren’t going to volunteer that information to their boss even if he or she asks. I also know that employees aren’t always forthcoming in giving that information on employee engagement surveys no matter how much the company tries to convince them their answers are “confidential”.

So I decided to post the top 10 complaints here in the hopes that leaders would read them and ask themselves 3 probing questions.

  1. Who is someone inside or outside the company that I trust that can give me an honest assessment of how I am perceived as a leader?  We all know people in our careers that are honest, trustworthy and discreet that can help us answer whether our perception of how we lead matches how others see us lead.  The answer might surprise you.
  2. Do any of these complaints describe my peers or bosses? Can any of them remotely describe me? Many times if you can spot these behaviors in others around you, it makes you stop and reflect on your own and causes you to take some time to be introspective.
  3. What is one thing I can do today to ensure that my perception of how I lead is aligned to how others see me as a leader?

Of course, to answer these questions truthfully require you, as a leader, to be objective about yourself.  But more importantly, it requires you to still CARE about being an effective leader. From the sounds of the heightened grumblings I’m hearing lately, that may be the missing ingredient.

So my question for you is: are you one of the leaders described in this Top 10 list?  What are you doing to make sure you’re not?