Why Employees Just Don’t Care, and What the Boss Can Do About It

I frequently hear leaders complain that their employees just don’t care anymore. Lack of employee engagement has reached epidemic proportions.

A May 2014 New York Times article titled, “Why you hate work” was the single most emailed article for an entire week. The article revealed that in a 2013 Harvard study of over asleep at meeting12,000 white-collar workers fully half did not feel any sense of connection to the company’s mission or any level of meaning and significance in their jobs.

The latest Gallup research shows that only 30% of American employees feel engaged, which means fully 70% of people are not engaged.

I’d like to suggest that the reason so many people “just don’t care anymore” is because their leaders haven’t given them anything meaningful to care about.

This is not an employee problem: it’s a leadership problem.

Again and again I hear leaders, particularly CEOs, lead with a narrative about earnings and stock price. This type of message ignores three fundamental truths about human motivation:

1. People want purpose and meaning in their work.
2. Emotion drives behavior.
3. The words of the leader matter.

A narrative of profit, earnings and bonuses that’s supposed to improve employee performance has the opposite effect. It strips the joy and meaning from work in ways that have a chilling effect on company performance, customer service, and employee morale.

The idea that a leader’s primary purpose is to drive earnings is pervasive in many, if not most, organizations. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong.stock graph with hand
Success, organizational and individual, financial and psychological, doesn’t spring forth from spreadsheets; it starts with ethos.

Every organization – be it a company or a family – has an ethos, if not by decision, then by default. The ethos is spirit of the organization. It’s collective beliefs about who the organization is and what they value. It’s that intangible thing that’s hard to name, yet everyone knows what it is.

It’s why employees at Whole Foods know that their larger purpose is to improve the health and wellbeing of their customers. It’s why the atmosphere in some schools feels like a prison, while others hum with a creative buzz. Walk into the principal’s office and you’ll likely find someone whose personal narrative is emblematic of their organizational ethos.

The leader casts the narrative for the organization. What he or she says, tells their team what they should think, feel and believe about the business. Whether it’s a department or an entire organization, the words of the leader set the tone. How often have you heard someone say, “My boss says . . .”

How often do you find your own boss’ words ringing in your ears?

Now here’s the harder question: who would you rather work for? A boss who told you that your purpose was to deliver earnings for shareholders? Or a boss who told you that your true and noble purpose was to make a difference in the lives of your customers?time for leadership guage

Organizations with a Noble Purpose, who have absolute clarity about how they improve the lives of their customers, outperform the market by almost 400%. It’s not because they focus on earnings more than other organizations. It’s because they focus on earnings less, instead, they make customers the gestalt of their business.

Lack of Noble Purpose erodes morale at work, and it eats into our lives at home, where people drag themselves through the door at night without an ounce of enthusiasm left for loved ones or fun.

If you want to make money, and make a difference, quit talking about money and find your Noble Purpose.