June 4, 2014

Apologies For Our Post On Disengaged Employees

Disengaged Employees Infographic

We made a mistake, and we’re sorry. We recently released an infographic called 13 Personality Traits Of A Disengaged Employee, and we received some negative feedback on it.

We really meant Horrible Employees

I want to explain our side of the story, and I want to apologize.

Infographics have worked very well for us in the past, and when we release infographics, we usually receive a huge amount of traffic to our website.

We decided to make a series of infographics, showing different traits of different types of people.

We made:

With our most recent one about the disengaged employee, we were lucky enough to have it featured on Entrepreneur, which of course is very exciting for a startup like ours, and drove a lot of traffic to our website.

Unfortunately, it also drove a lot of negative comments.

another bad comment about disengaged employees
another bad comment about employee engagement

One interesting thing to note, is that originally the title for that infographic was “13 Personality Traits Of A Horrible Employee”.

Somewhere along the way in the design process, it was changed to “disengaged”. Just that subtle name change might have made all the difference.

Horrible employees are almost always disengaged, but disengaged employees aren’t necessarily inherently horrible.

We made a mistake in the wording that we used, and for that, we’re truly sorry. We should have worded it differently.

At the end of the infographic, I said something rather controversial, and we received a bit of negative feedback about it.

What I said was, “Any employee that’s not willing to help improve the company culture should be let go, because they will be a drain on the rest of the team”.

Realistically, I probably could have worded it differently, but I still stand by my beliefs that anyone that’s harming the company culture needs to be let go.

Long term, it will be disastrous for your company if you keep them on board.

I’m reminded of this famous quote from the Netflix Culture Doc,

Do not tolerate brilliant jerks, the cost to teamwork is too high – Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix)

What I could have mentioned is that after trying to engage employees, if they’re still disengaged, then they need to be let go. You can’t have poor performers and disengaged people on the team, it will bring the rest of the team down.

comment about a bad manager

I think it’s also important to note that managers are employees too.

I know that seems so obvious, but managers do just as much damage (if not more) to culture than regular employees.

Long term, you’re doing more damage to your company and the entire team by keeping this person on.

Some Employees Won’t Fit In

It’s important to understand that not everyone will fit in with your culture, and that’s okay. You don’t want those people around.

You want people that will enhance the culture, not bring it down. If an employee is bringing it down, you have to get rid of them.

Not long ago, I was talking with an HR manager at a big bank, and she had mentioned to me that their culture was really starting to slip, and after a long discussion with a bunch of people, found out that there were a few “rotten” managers that were ruining it for everyone else.

What she told me, was that they were serious about improving their culture, and were going to give those managers an ultimatum, either improve or get out.

Sometimes, we need to make these tough decisions that will actually be better for us long term. It’s never fun to fire an employee, and I don’t like talking about employees as if they’re commodities, but engaging everyone, and converting everyone from disengaged to engaged is unrealistic. Sometimes, people get fired, it’s very natural.

When Do You Fire Someone?

This is an incredibly difficult question, that even I don’t have the answer to.

On one hand, you want to believe that everyone has good in them, and that if you work with them, and help them over time, they’ll become better. But are some people un-engageable no matter how hard we try?

I’m reminded of what’s known as the sunk cost fallacy. What the sunk cost fallacy is, is where you’re already committed to something, so you stick it out anyways because you’re already so invested.

For example, if you say to yourself “I might as well continue to watch this terrible movie because I’ve already watched an hour of it”, then you’re falling for the sunk cost fallacy.

I wonder if this is true in employee engagement as well.

Do managers keep an employee on board longer because they’re already so committed? They’ve hired them, they’ve trained them, they’ve paid them, so maybe they might as well stick it out?

In my opinion, this is a huge mistake, and will hurt your company’s culture in the long run.

Final Thoughts

I think it’s fair to say that we made an honest mistake.

We’re a startup, and we’re trying our best to teach employees what to do and what not to do, and the same with employers.

Let me recap what I think our biggest mistakes were.

  1. We shouldn’t have changed the wording from Horrible to Disengaged during the design process. I can speculate as to why the change was made, but suffice to say, it was a bad idea.
  2. Some of the traits that we described, we either could have used different words (like “Unwilling to work with others” instead of “Independent”), or not included them at all.
  3. We should have been more clear about when it’s appropriate to fire someone, and when you should try and re-engage someone.

At Officevibe, we’re passionate about engaging employees, and we seriously want everyone to be happier, healthier, and more productive at work, and I think that if we want to become an authority on the subject of company culture and employee engagement, we need to be willing to have these tough conversations, and admit when we’re wrong.

Again, we’re sorry, and we’ll be smarter about it next time.