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Are All Bosses Delusional?

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Why do so many bosses think everyone's happy just to have a job, when more than half of the country's workers are dissatisfied and nearly 20 percent are plotting to take their skills somewhere else?

A recent USA Today article reported this disturbing disconnect. It highlights what I call the "Ostrich Syndrome." Tragically, this misalignment between workers and management could imperil the recovery of many companies.

The article quoted a Monster.com survey which found that more than eight of 10 employers say their workers are "just happy to have a job." Actually, only half of their employees feel that way. Even in the current market a SnagAJob survey says nearly 20 percent of employees are thinking about changing companies in the coming year.

So what's going on? Why are employers so complacent when many of their people are so unhappy that they're thinking of jumping ship? On what are those employers basing such powerful -- and delusional -- assumptions? Here's my take.

Often it's a combination of laziness and fear. Assumptions about what others think are not truly examined. It's easier to keep treating employees as things rather than people. And finding out how employees really feel is risky.

If companies don't take action now then their sharper competitors -- globally -- will scoop up the talent. And let's not delude ourselves. More cash is not always the answer. Some experts say money is often the last reason motivating people's moves. Employees need to know they're being heard, that they're having an impact, and that they're being treated with respect.

So if you're one those CEOs who's just realized you're a victim of the "Ostrich Syndrome," here's what you must do right now.

First, take a good look at yourself and your assumptions. Challenge the idea that everyone working for you is simply "happy to have a job." Second, commit to creating new relationships with your employees that develop their skills, talents and resources.

Ask real questions to real people. Walk the floor. Hold town halls. Don't leave it to your HR team. Take the lead yourself. Dialogue builds trust. And believe me, the employees will be thrilled that you -- not a department head or one of your managers -- actually care enough to ask them yourself.

Find out their values and principles. Ask how they're doing in these tough times, and what they need from you. Encourage them to reconnect with why they're working for you and what they bring to the business. Ask them about their deeper motivations. Find out what they want to create and the impact they'd like to have.

You'll learn what they need in order to stay and how they think they can contribute more to the business.

Dig deeper. Ask for stories about the company and where they see it heading. Prompt them to see themselves at the center of the business. Commit to making this an ongoing conversation. It must become part of your firm's DNA. This will reduce the risk of your best talent walking out the door.

This process can at times feel overwhelming and you'll certainly get answers you don't like hearing. But if you invest your time and energy, you'll be rewarded with committed, creative employees.

While it won't cost you a penny of your precious cash flow, I guarantee you'll be rewarded with a dramatically more robust culture. You'll see increased alignment across the business, greater collaboration and employees taking ownership of their work. Most important of all, productivity and profitability will benefit.

You can't afford to rest on your assumptions. Take your head out of the sand now.


Allen Schoer is the CEO of The TAI Group, an international leadership and organizational change consulting firm based in New York City.