Undervaluation: Overcoming The Toxic Impact Of Leaders Undervaluing Employee Contributions

“A leader is someone people follow not because they have to, but because they want to.”
-Unattributed-

We have all read the concerning news about disengagement in our workforce. Statistics are staggering, per a recent officevibe.com blog: 70% of U.S. employees are disengaged, 89% of employers think employees leave for more money while only 12% actually do – in fact, 75% of all employees leave because of their boss.

In these uncertain times, the workplace can be a respite from chaos and change, however statistics paint a very different picture. More employees than ever are seeking new employment, feeling disengaged and undervalued in their current positions. There are a host of reasons, for example, in my line of work technology is moving forward at breakneck speeds, and for those unable to keep up with it, the vision of future technology appears daunting and unfamiliar. For those leaders in technology, it requires the ability to drop the familiar and not only accept the unfamiliar, but lead others toward it. For many, this is too difficult, their wheelhouse is in past technology, they can’t see the new vision, let alone lead it!

And while there are a number of reasons people are seeking new employment (5 Signs Its Time For A New Job) I would like to concentrate this post on one of those reasons – feeling undervalued.

Feeling Undervalued

One of the MOST critical applications of understanding strengths and utilizing emotional intelligence, particularly for a leader, is to know what your employee needs. Not all employees are the same; their strengths, their feelings toward instruction, the way they interact – all of these differences and more are great learning opportunities for managers.

Especially when it comes to employees on the brink, the brink of feeling undervalued. These employees burn out quickly, but they rarely burn out quietly. Undervalued employees make it known that they feel “less than”, it may not be in obvious ways, but in hindsight, neither are the ways subtle.

You just need to know how to read the signs, and rectify the situation before it’s too far gone. Perhaps if a leader understood an employee’s strengths, what they needed to feel valued, their leadership could make the difference for that employee feeling of value to the organization. This is a fundamental need for top performing employees to stay in today’s workforce. Keep in mind that more than ever, employees can also recount their experiences with and employer very publicly. The employer brand matters as much as the consumer brand as Gallup found in their State of the American Workplace Report (You can access the 34 Strong Series that breaks down the employer brand HERE)

Not a Favorite

Katie recently retired, she had 35 years on the job with the state – she built much of her identity around her job, most of her friends were from that agency, and she truly enjoyed the work she did. Toward the last five years of her career, however, there was a management change, and suddenly Katie was reporting to a new boss.

Her new boss was a lot different from her previous bosses, there was this sense of favoritism from him, and she discovered early on that she was not one of his favorites. There was a pretty clear division on the teams below him, from the employee perspective, he liked one team, and he didn’t like the other. As Katie describes it, if you were on the team he loved, you could do no wrong. In fact, even when you did wrong, he would just sweep it under the carpet. However, if you were on Katie’s team, there was no pleasing him. If there was a mistake made, employees were ridiculed and made to feel inferior – Katie said most of them felt like they were demeaned to the point of tears most days.

Katie felt “gypped”, like what should have been her best years, her final years, were made miserable. She felt like all the amazing memories and fun times from the first 30 years were wiped out in a sea of tears and frustration – nothing she did was good enough.

She felt like she had no value, like she added no value to the organization. And this was the worst part of all, she had the kind of pride in her work that most people would kill for, certainly most managers would kill for – and in the end, she felt quite worthless.

And she was not alone, within an eighteen-month period, 2/3 of the team left.  Those months were full of signs – excessive absenteeism, underperforming by formerly productive staff, employee conflict between teams and lack of participation in team building events. These are all clear signs of disengagement, not from one employee but from the team. While a couple retired early, most left for lateral positions, and a few even demoted just to get out.

So why didn’t they go to “higher up” management and complain? They did, however the more they complained, the harder he was on them, and upper management did nothing.

It was a “no win”, so Katie put in her retirement papers. And that killed her, she wanted nothing more than to work another five years and retire at almost full pay. Her decision boiled down to her own welfare; make less but not have a knot in your gut every time the boss called her name, or stay, and likely end up developing health issues from the anxiety and stress.

She opted for the former. And for what it’s worth, she looks ten years younger and her smile is ten times brighter!

The Leader’s Responsibility

We can’t underestimate the value of feeling needed, of feeling as though our contributions matter. And our strengths are a big clue into how we need to feel valued. For me, I feel valued if my ideas and successful projects are noted and appreciated, or when my communication skills are leveraged to assist in conveying difficult to understand technical information, or when I am valued for bringing diverse groups to the table and building a unified team…or maybe just being recognized for jobs well done. These needs of mine stem directly from my strengths; wanting my Intellection, Communication and Positivity recognized and appreciated.

Are you a leader? Do you value your employees’ contributions to the organization? Do you let them know they are valued? If not, it’s never too late to turn the ship around, learn your employees’ strengths, learn how to value those strengths and help grown them stronger…the more valued the employee, the more valuable their contribution. Bear in mind that each employee will contribute very differently and appreciate how their contributions are valued very differently. It is a Leader’s responsibility to create an environment where people follow you not because they HAVE to but rather, because they WANT to. That will not come from command and control techniques and belittling others.  It does not come when employees feel they as individuals AND as a team are not valued. What kind of environment have you created as a leader?  Is it one built that your team will merely survive, or is it one built where they will thrive?


Shelley Hom is a technology manager with the State of California who was introduced to Strengths Finder through a leadership academy at work. Using what she has learned both in her work and personal life, she mentors colleagues, family and friends on using ones’ strengths to get them where they want to go! When she isn’t working, she loves hanging out with people and enjoying the simple things life has to offer; laughing, chatting, reading, and let’s not forget writing – all usually done with a really good cup of coffee close at hand! Outside of blogging for 34 Strong Shelley’s own blog can be found at: www.myhomworld.com