Editor’s Note: The following account, Destination Disengagement, is from an employee who loved her company, was highly engaged in her work, and then tilted from engagement to disengagement specifically because of a manager. It illustrates the critical importance of not only building and developing a culture of engagement, but also sustaining it. Gallup has found that managers are responsible for 70% of an employees’ engagement, and this tale illustrates how quickly a manager will drive that balance for better or for worse. Perhaps you have walked this journey before or seen others walk through it. When we take our engaged star performers and convert them into disengagement, we are losing out as organizations big time. This story may sound very familiar and as you read it, ask yourself, what are the true organizational costs? There are serious personal costs that are chronicled here, but what are the tangible costs that an organization creates when it creates disengagement vortexes through ill-equipped, or misaligned managers?
The Employee Engagement Champion
Insecurity is a deep rooted seed which bears a fruit that can quickly kill a team and all its members. I recently discovered the road to destination disengagement and what happens when you have a highly insecure manager. For over 9 years I worked for a company that I absolutely loved! I enjoyed my job and the people I worked with for 8 of those 9 years. From the moment I interviewed I was filled with excitement to be a part of that company. I genuinely felt my job had a vital role and that I was one of many that made us successful. I learned through mistakes and successes and really began to find my strengths. My first manager was known in the company as being very difficult to work for and prior to me he had gone through 12 admins in 11 years. I was able to work with him and do it well! I used what I had learned (good and bad) from that manager to create a new position for myself within the company that didn’t exist before. I exceled in that role and became the Sales Administration Manager and had 6 Sales Administrators reporting to me. My family and friends could see how much I loved my job and it was evident that I valued the company AND that my contributions were valued by the company. Perhaps you have gone down this path before?
So what changed? Well, as any person looking to grow I wanted to continue to expand my knowledge and skills and took on a position as a sales representative. Again, I was looking forward to being on a team and to challenging myself as I had done with this company for 7 years. The first year in this new role was a joy! I loved the new adventure and was grateful the company had given me the opportunity to expand my contributions and in turn grow in my ability to financially support my family. It was the second year being on this team that the place I once loved coming to on Monday morning had become a living hell. It just took one seed of gossip to fall on my manager’s ear to overnight change how she saw me. I learned very quickly in my first year with her that she was a micromanager and I knew that other people had struggled working for her but I unfortunately judged them and thought it was because they were simply weak and couldn’t handle it. Since I had 5 years under my belt of working for a tough boss I thought I could be the one to handle it. Pride always comes before the fall and I pre-judged a situation that I did not fully know.
Destination Disengagement: The Inescapable Shadow
My manager had sent a pretty rough email to her team expressing what we were not doing well, how we were falling short and how she was going to micromanage us to get the results she was looking for. This was not out of the norm for her but unfortunately it came right after we had just met all of our goals and had a great sales quarter. The team became very defeated and discouraged so as we talked amongst ourselves how to handle it I wrote an email so she knew what I was thinking and expressing that I wanted to work with her in a productive way. It did not go to anyone outside of our team that had received the email. Unfortunately, a passerby wanted to stir things up and told her we were talking about her and told her things that I didn’t even say. Even after working at the same company with her for so many years she took their word over mine. From that day forward it didn’t matter what I did, I would never escape that shadow.
At first I was baffled that even though she received my email that day and I was very candid with her she took the word of someone less known as truth over my direct interaction with her. I realized later that because she was so insecure that it wasn’t even about what was said, it was because her team got frustrated and didn’t see her as the amazing boss she perceived herself as. Unfortunately, her insecurity clouded her judgement and clouded her view of me. From that day forward I was held to a standard quite different from anyone else. She criticized the majority of my client emails and extended my hours of work. I was openly demeaned and berated by her causing others to pull me aside and acknowledge the complete inappropriateness of her actions. I was expected to be available 24/7 including holidays, while not getting paid the amount to support that. One of my favorite sayings is, “Work like a captain, party like a pirate.” I believe you work hard but you also have to have balance with family and life outside of your career. Although in 8 years this value rang true from the company, under her reign, this value did not exist.
Destination Disengagement: The Pivot
The intense relationship continued and I was under such pressure and criticism that my health was deteriorating rapidly…anxiety and depression were kicking in and I had stints where I couldn’t eat. I was regularly threatened that my job was in danger. I looked up my stats trying to figure out what I was doing that was so bad. I quickly saw that my number of calls and emails were just as high if not higher than other team members who were not being treated this way. I evaluated the accounts I was given to work on and I had grown 80% of them. I had taken accounts from 0 in revenue to regular customers. My numbers did not show a negative trend that warranted any of the harsh treatment I was receiving.
What was it then? How was I going to become the team member she could value and not demean? After 8 months of trying to do everything she asked including working holidays and weekends, being available in the evenings, extending the hours I worked in the office, not socializing at the office, keeping up the amount of calls and emails every day I was still seen as “the problem”. Destination disengagement was quickly appearing on my horizon. My confidence was shattered; and I begun questioning my own abilities which lead to the depression and anxiety. I made a mistake one day, and had a full blown anxiety attack at my desk, where I was wondering if I was on the brink of a heart attack. I emotionally and physically couldn’t afford to work here any more.
The Employer Facing Brand: The Well Is Toxic
Fortunately, I was offered a job elsewhere and could not believe I had arrived at destination disengagement and was leaving the company I loved. I put in my resignation and found out very quickly from upper management that the picture was not at all what she had painted. Three other team members have since left. I have been told by the COO multiple times that she would offer me a job anytime if I wanted to come back and I was even told that the president of the company in a coordination meeting with upper management said that she missed me.
People have asked me why I didn’t stay and just simply ask to be under someone else. The reason I couldn’t stay was that if this manager had gone through so many people and everyone had very similar stories of what it was like working for her yet she was continually promoted and they were quietly walking out the back door then how could I trust her managers? I didn’t feel safe in an organization that had allowed someone so toxic to drive culture for so long. They allowed her to be a manager because she was great at sales on her own, missing the fact that being a manager is very different than being a great individual sales representative. My trust in the organization waned as, the massive ramifications that included high turnover, suffering employee health, all due to her reign were seemingly overlooked.
I wasn’t able to see the ripple of toxicity permeating my work and life until I stepped away from it. I was far from the perfect employee and still had much to learn and grow in but I had proven over 9 years that I was willing to take on what was needed; I was hard working and pushed myself to grow.
The Gift: Re-Engaging With Strength
As traumatic of an experience this was going through the journey to destination disengagement, I am also grateful as I have learned so much and grown. I learned how to be open about mistakes and accept the consequences whether they were appropriate or not. I learned how to see the light in others and not always point out their errors. We are our own worst critic and until we can see the light in ourselves, we aren’t capable of calling it out in others. Through this experience I have learned that it is absolutely vital to call out others strengths and bringing our own forward in a way that best contribute to the outcomes we seek.
This destination disengagement experience also confirmed the power of the manager as a driver in employee engagement. Gallup has found that 70% of employee engagement is linked to managers. Managers operating under a command and control approach where trust dies, and micromanagement flourishes will successfully drive out the best talent on teams. I am not indicating that I was the best talent on the team, but I know the other staff that left on their own were some of the best that I had seen. This tale is all too familiar in organizations across the world. If you are in that space, you have the power to change, you don’t have to stay stuck. If you are going through this, now, remember, that it is in rising back up from being knocked down that we can really see our talents align for the better of us and those we seek to serve.
Christine Childs is an account manager with XL Benefits. She has a knack for account management bolstered by her desire to serve others. Utilizing her strengths of Developer, Connectedness, Communication, Woo and Positivity, she builds rapport with others, establishing trusted, long term relationships. Christine loves creating welcoming spaces for others that has lead her to create many personalized parties and weddings. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org