Workplace Stress: Disengaged Robotic Employees

"Go in that room. Take off your top and bra. Wait there until we call you." The x-ray technician gave me my orders with robot-like precision. No smile. No eye contact. Zero engagement.

Flash back twelve years ago to a local pharmacy. I was picking up a prescription for medication to treat what was assumed to be a heart attack.

The angiogram came back clear; the cardiologist's final words were that my symptoms were "non-specific". I believe that it was a stress attack, given where I was and how I was feeling at the onset of the initial symptoms.

I made some comment to the pharmacist about this event; I was surprised that there was no response. Whatsoever. It was like I was getting my medication from a vending machine, not a living, breathing, feeling person.

In both examples, the patient (me) got the impression that I was an inconvenience, someone not worth a smile or even a brief interchange.

Disengaged and disinterested employees hurt a company's bottom line, not only behind the scenes, but also in the way in which they treat your customers and clients.

In an article which appeared in The Globe and Mail, Dr. Reid of Queen's University was quoted as saying that productivity was likely higher in a company whose employees were engaged. However, he also pointed out that he couldn't unanimously say that because a company encouraged engagement that it would naturally increase productivity. "I can't say that A causes B," stated Dr. Reid.

But what if you dissect what lies beneath the feelings of disengagement? You might discover an employee who is a Triple D - discouraged, disheartened, disengaged. All this points to an employee who is stressed. His inability to effectively transform his stress begins to have a seismic effect upon his work. Cracks appear in a variety of forms - resistance, unwillingness to cooperate, poor attention to detail, stifled creativity, increased absenteeism or disengagement, which may seem like the only recourse open to this employee. It's a way to redirect the frustration, disappointment and hurt from putting in all those long hours for little or no recognition, or for doing more with fewer resources and no incentives.

The robot-like performance of a disengaged employee hardly speaks to the innovation and flexibility that most employers require in the rapidly changing face of work. If allowed to ferment, one negative attitude can sour the morale of the workforce. If the employee goes on long-term disability, quits or has to be dismissed, there is a cost both in time and money to replace that employee.

A stressed employee is costly to a company. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, it costs the economy about $50 billion per year to deal with stress-related issues and illnesses. Sixty percent of people identify work as their main source of stress, reports StatCan.

How do you ignite the heart and imagination of your employees? According to Dr. de Carufel of the Schulich School of Business at York University, people need to "see and feel the effects" of what they're doing. In other words, they want to know that they are making a contribution, that their efforts count and that they matter.

What if management created and put into practice policies that demonstrate that they care for their employees? It would strengthen the strands that connect employer and employee, providing a safety net, encouraging cooperation and enhancing well-being. Klick Health in Toronto goes so far as to automatically turn off the lights at 6:30 p.m. reminding people that it's time to go home. This commitment has paid off - they have the lowest voluntary staff turnover in the industry.

Can you imagine how that action makes people feel? Feelings matter. They are not to be feared, but to be revered. Companies would do well to equip each employee with a solid foundation that supports, encourages and empowers its employees to harness the ability to use their feelings in a positive and productive manner.

Feelings can either induce stress or reduce it. Feelings trigger actions. By learning to manage those feelings with techniques that can be done in the boardroom, on the shop floor or face-to-face with a client or customer, the employer and employee receives benefits that reverberate throughout the organization. Benefits that improve morale, productivity, customer service. Disengagement becomes engagement - all because employees learn to use heart power.

How are you supporting your employees? The ones who have emotionally checked out, but who still draw a pay cheque. You hired them because you saw the value they could bring to your organization. Is it not more prudent to provide them with tools and techniques to help them do what you hired them to do?

In what condition is the heart of your business and your people? With a short, targeted coaching program, learn how to apply CPR for greater Compassion, which leads to improved Performance and much-needed Revitalization.

Having a systematic strategy to use when stress fractures first appear will enable your greatest resource - your employees - do what they do best, unencumbered by the cortical inhibition and the physical symptoms that are the hallmark of stress.

If robots can be programmed to be more empathetic in their interactions with humans without having a heart, imagine what magnificent changes occur when the hearts of your employees are engaged!

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