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Saturday Shoutout!!! Employee Engagement (Part 4)

Employee Engagement: Learned Helplessness

Issue 2 | Number 9 | 7 July 2012

In the third article, Employee Engagement: Embrace, Empower and Engage we explored and looked at employee engagement from the point of … “If you want them to care, make sure you care.”

In this fourth article we delve into the thought that when employees feel heard, when they feel their input makes a difference, they are obviously more likely to share their ideas and give their input in the future.  They are more likely to care, because they see they make a difference.  Conversely, when employees get the message from their managers that their ideas and input do not matter – when they realize THEY don’t matter – they stop trying.

David Lee argues that in today’s challenging world and unforgiving marketplace, where you need all employees to have a “Can Do” attitude, you cannot afford a workforce suffering from “Learned Helplessness”. You need people who believe they can tackle any problem and overcome any challenge.  Making sure your employees know that their voice does make a difference is one way to prevent “Learned Helplessness”.

How Learned Helplessness Shows Up In the Workplace                                                          In her article How Learned Helplessness Shows Up in the Workplace leadership consultant Shelley Holmes writes about situations where you hear people saying things like “We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work” or “What’s the point, we won’t be allowed” you are hearing people who have what is known in psychological terms as ‘learned helplessness’.

Generally it happens over time. Past experience dictates people’s thoughts and consequently their beliefs about what they can and can’t do.  When a group begins to believe that they only have a small locus of control over their destiny they begin to behave that way.  A workplace where people are exhibiting the symptoms of learned helplessness is depressing.  People have given up trying and become passive, submissive and expect less from their jobs.

The Leader Does Make the Difference                                                                                   David Lee suggests a leader can have so much influence over whether their workforce is vital, alive and kicking goals or being apathetic.  The workforce need to learn they could make a difference before we could expect them to want to.”  As a leader do you:

  • Ask employees for their input and perspectives prior to making changes or launching new initiatives?
  • Ask employees to generate ideas for improving quality, productivity, and customer service, etc?
  • Make it a regular practice of asking ‘what do you think about ____?” or “How could we improve ____?”
  • Celebrate and reward efforts to think outside the box and try new things?
  • Give employees the information they need to provide intelligent input?
  • Make it “safe” for people to disagree with you?

Creating a supportive environment that energizes                                                                     Knowing how to create such an environment is essential if you as a leader want an inspired, energized, enthusiastic workforce.  Knowing how to create a nurturing environment that energizes rather than sucks the life out of employees is closely linked to the emotional state and energy level of employees.

While embracing employees may be necessary for achieving employee engagement, it is not sufficient.  Employees must have the ability and the opportunity to make a difference before they try to make a difference.  They must be able to experience mastery and excellence at their jobs if they are to feel confident and competent to tackle big problems and make a difference.

Finally, “If you want your employees to be completely devoted to you and your cause, you need to be completely devoted to them.”  For greater engagement, start by embracing and empowering your employees.  Give first, and then watch what you get back.

Did you miss the previous three parts to this article – you can find them at Engagement: Back to Basics and Employee Engageement: Death by 1000 Cups and Employee Engagement: Embrace, Empower and Engage.

Photo Credits: The Office Snitch

Next Week’s Blog: Self Doubt – When the Rubber Hits the Road 

If you find these updates useful, feel free to forward on to a work colleague or friend.

About the Author                                                                                                                          To fulfil his professional and personal career aspirations, Tony Wiggins created ‘The HR Architect’ brand in 2009.  With a well-grounded focus and passion for HR, he thrives on working across his networks as a thought leader in ‘making a difference’ in the HR arena.

Tony Wiggins is the Founder and UX Editor of Saturday Shoutout!!! and The HR Architect Spends 5 Minutes with …. Tony utilises the blog ‘The HR Architect’ as a social media network and platform that empowers HR professionals to network, assist and support one another, spanning different countries, subcultures and niches.  Contact Tony at basketa@optusnet.com.au or @tonywiggin on Twitter.

One Response

  1. […] Employee Engagement: Learned Helplessness Issue 2 | Number 9 | 7 July 2012 In the third article, Employee Engagement: Embrace, Empower and Engage we explored and looked at employee engagement from …  […]

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