You may have heard about the Spanish man who was found to have not reported for work for six years, and no one noticed -- although he continued to be paid. When finally discovered, he claimed that when he did go to work, he had nothing to do.
That may be an extreme example, but many people today are turned-off by their jobs in less visible ways. They become pretty disengaged from work - either mentally checking out, or in actual behavior if they can - like faking doing work, or skipping out to go to a movie. Surveys find disengagement as high as 70% of American workers. It's no surprise that nearly every day a new survey pops up about how much people dislike their jobs and their management. The reasons typically include severe, unrelenting stress from too many demands and too few resources or rewards, such as cited in a poll of 7000 people. Both stress and just tuning out are often rooted in debilitating, undermining management behavior and workplace culture. For example, A survey of 2,000 workers found that 47 percent said their managers made them feel threatened, rather than rewarded, and 24 percent thought their bosses were poor communicators, lacking empathy.
But there are additional, often overlooked reasons why employees tune out or disconnect from their work: One is when you start to realize that "I just don't belong here." An example is a woman working in financial services who described to me an increasing mismatch between her actual job functions, and her skills, experience, and capacities; a gap between her abilities and talents, on the one hand; and what the role allowed -- or restricted, on the other. That may occur for anyone who realizes over time, as she did, "I never really meshed" with the job. When that mismatch exists, you suffer and don't grow. Either you turn off or become determined to find better fit, somewhere else, whether in the same company or another; or, even, in a different career, which could require an additional degree or training.
Another overlooked source of stress and disconnection was expressed by someone working in marketing for a media corporation. He had became essentially sidelined; or "shelved," as some call it, because of company politics following the entry of a new boss. He was now limited to projects quite a bit beneath his skills and experience. In effect, he had been rendered invisible. This happens when your competencies, knowledge and capabilities are underutilized. Worse, they may be misused or stifled altogether. Then you're in a dead-end situation that will turn you off. And it can lead to feeling like a victim, unless you become proactive and create a strategy for networking; for leveraging yourself into a situation that restores an opportunity for contributing what you're capable of.
Some people's stress and disconnection build up when they feel trapped; confined by their work and career position. It may be satisfying, per se, but lack opportunities for growth, learning, and expansion of responsibility. In that state of confinement you're boxed in and don't have the room you need to stretch beyond where you've become plateaued. Stagnation or just "mailing it in" can result unless you take on a personal project: looking for new opportunities where you can expand and enlarge your skills, whether in the same company or a new one. That requires some risk, to be sure, but it's even riskier to do nothing.
Companies would do well to recognize the role that a negative management and leadership culture plays in creating the conditions for disengagement and stress. Otherwise, the company will generate a demoralized, de-energized atmosphere. And that undercuts the company's ability to stay abreast of the marketplace competition, especially in these times of flux and rapid change.
For workers who experience the attitudes and behavior I've described, the key to liberating yourself is to push yourself outside your own narrow vantage point, rather than becoming trapped within it or blocked by feelings of frustration and resentment. When you do that, you're better able to direct your energy towards seeking a more fulfilling, positive situation.
dlabier@CenterProgressive.org. Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., writes the blog, Progressive Impact and is director of the Center for Progressive Development. For more about him on The Huffington Post, click here.