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The 3 stages of Organizational Discontentment

When we analyze our organizational health, we often look at things like turnover (voluntary and involuntary), absenteeism, employee survey results (employee satisfaction) and the overall level of employee engagement we have in our workplace. A lot of our organizational efforts are often spent on addressing these issues. In many companies we have data, whether objective or subjective, at our disposal to determine whether or not we have any major gaps in these areas.
Org discontentGenerally speaking, the above noted areas can all be indicators of organizational discontentment. In my experience, I have found there to be three stages of overall organizational discontentment which I will define further below.  It is important to understand that at the first stage, most things are easily fixed and by addressing a key item (or two) you can remain in relatively good organizational shape. At the second stage, you are now experiencing more issues (ones that have potentially festered for a year or more); however, there is still time to address and fix the issues. If you look into and begin to tackle second stage issues promptly, you have an opportunity to stem the tide and win back the hearts and minds of your employees. If you have reached stage three, you are approaching critical mass and have potentially lost the morale, spirit, hearts and minds of the majority of your staff and it requires focused and sustained effort to turn things around. So how do you know where you are in the spectrum of discontent? Here is how you know:

1st stage organizational discontent: At this stage, your overall level of organizational discontentment is probably not a major issue. You are dealing with the things that all companies have to deal with. You probably need to identify one or two key issues and tackle those and show some improvement so as to retain your best and brightest. Typical signs of 1st stage organizational discontentment are things like:

• Employee survey comments that cite general organizational policies not being adhered to.
• General complaints about things like the office being too hot/cold
• Employee survey results that have been a strength for many years but then take a slight dip.
• Staff approach their managers to verbally complain about similar issues (i.e. favouritism)
• Increase use of paid sick time at the start of a calendar year

2nd stage organizational discontent: If you have reached this stage, you have some work to do. You are knee deep in some issues that have been festering for some time and that haven’t been addressed for some time. As an organization, you need to focus on addressing one or two key issues that will provide the biggest impact to your employee base and your organizational health. Typical signs of 2nd stage organizational discontentment are:

• Employee survey results that show unfavourable results in the areas of employee recognition, communication, respect and/or health and safety. These are all key drivers and leading indicators of (low) engagement and (poor) morale.

• An increase in the number of employees by-passing their manager with concerns and going directly to HR. Or, employees skipping their managers and escalating issues directly to senior leadership.

• Employee self-appraisal forms (for the annual review process) that list multiple areas of discontentment and concern.

• Feedback from focus groups that relate to areas similar to the survey – i.e. concerned about communication, recognition, pay, overall equity, etc.

• Complaints that performance reviews aren’t done on time, etc.

•Staff that typically were able/available to work overtime are no longer able to and/or are unable to take on additional projects.

3rd stage organizational discontent: This is it, the final stage. If you are here, it means you have ignored all the all signs at stages 1 and 2 (or did nothing to address them). Your employees have expressed their concern and now feel ignored or that you don’t care. In either case you were oblivious to the previous signs and are now seeing/experiencing the following at the 3rd stage of organizational discontentment:

• Complaints about things like:
o Dusty workstations
o Dirty carpets
o Break room fridges are too hot/cold or the room is too dirty
o Inadequate office lighting
• Your office supply bill keeps increasing each month
• Productivity results are missed on a regular basis without any explanation
• Employees don’t provide ANY feedback/comments on surveys, self-appraisals, or in focus groups
• There are a lot of small group discussions that take place throughout the office
• Employees that typically don’t go out for lunch start going out for lunch and/or groups of employees start leaving taking lunch together.

At each of these stages you have an opportunity to turn things around. However, the level of rigor and focus required to do so increases at each stage. The key is to recognize things at the 1st stage and work with your staff to address and improve things. The real danger is that many organizations ignore the signs of the first two stages and ONLY see the stage three signs. They see these as mostly being trivial so they chalk things up to being ok if those are the only complaints. The problem is that at the 3rd stage, the employee/employer relationship is so fractured; sometimes there is no recovering from this stage.  Employees feel that they have attempted to identify the big ticket items (which were ignored) so now they are focusing on the little bits and things that they can directly influence of control.

I wish you well in effectively identifying what, if any stage, you and your organization are currently at.  Hopefully you can quickly diagnose and apply some triage to the situation!  What about you? Do you have any other 1st, 2nd or 3rd stage signs to add? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of artur84/Freedigitalphotos.net

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