Smiling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside

If you walk in to any corporation around the world today, you might see a lot of smiling faces looking back at you. Perhaps there is a buzz in the air. On the surface all might seem well, however, since we know from Gallup's latest research that 87% of the global workforce identifies themselves as disengaged (68.5% in the US) why so many smiling faces? The disconnect is that you can still be smiling on the outside, while also crying on the inside.

Most disengagement is silent, unless someone is actively so and wants everyone around them to know it. The majority of disengaged people have become adept at hiding their feelings. Many times managers might not have any idea someone was disengaged until it came out during an exit interview. Smart organizations are those that become adept at figuring out how engaged their employees are before it gets too late.

I remember being asked by a mentor why I left our organization when we ran into each other after my departure. I said that I became disengaged over time and needed a change. She said, "why didn't we know" and my instant response, without thinking much about it was "because no one asked me." This conversation stayed with me a long time and ultimately led me to create the ALIVE Treatment Plan for engagement.

The core concept that drives the ALIVE plan is that an exit interview shouldn't be the first time that managers find out an employee might be disengaged and unhappy in their role. Today many people choose to stay right where they are, even after they have mentally checked out of their jobs. I call this the 'quit and stay' phenomenon. There isn't a more damaging practice for a company that wants to be successful and profitable.

The foundation for the ALIVE plan is a stay conversation. In a workplace setting, this is a two-way dialogue between a manager and an employee designed to discover what motivates and engages the employee or conversely what is causing their disengagement, all of which impacts their decision to stay or go. Done right, companies can increase employee satisfaction and address any issues that might surface before they become serious and irreparable simply by conducting a stay conversation.

Managers should get in to the habit of holding these conversations twice a year. It's important to note that this is not a performance management discussion or task status meeting. It's also not the time to slap a label on someone as being engaged or disengaged. Instead, it's all about getting to know your employees better, which if done right can pay huge dividends down the road.

Here are the five steps to keeping employees alive and thriving:

A Is for ASK
This all begins with a manager reaching out to an employee to invite them to meet and puts them at ease by letting them know this is a 'touch base' to see how they are doing and not related to performance.

Here's some sample questions to get the dialogue going...
  • What's the one thing you would change about your job, team or the company if given a chance?
  • What talents, interests or skills do you feel are most underutilized in this role and which you'd like to use more?
  • What opportunities for development, beyond your current role, would you like?
  • What about your job makes you sick at the thought of coming in to work?

L is for LISTEN
It's critical that the manager pay close attention not just to what was being said, but also to what is left unsaid. If the right atmosphere is created from the beginning, that of a conversation, not a performance discussion, then a two-way dialogue can occur naturally. Someone who is engaged will be quick to speak up and share feedback. Anyone just going through the motions at work will tend to answer the questions in as few words as possible and leave you without an opening to probe further. It's so important to listen to the hidden message in what your employees are saying (or not saying) that can give you important clues as to what really matters to them.

Once the stay conversation is done, managers should take a day or two to digest the shared information and then identify two to three concrete re-action steps that they can commit to doing for the employees. These should be something that can be reasonably accomplished and are designed to reengage and reignite the passion of the employee, tying directly back to what was heard and seen in the initial meeting.

In this step the manager gets back together with the employee and thanks them for the conversation and goes over the re-action steps they'd like to take. This validation process is key to ensuring that the manager did correctly capture the essence of what's important to the employee and shows that the manager is committed to engagement.

E is for EXECUTE
Just do it, go forth and execute on your plan!

If done right, this treatment plan is quick, easy and cost effective, with no lingering side effects. It's the best holistic medicine out there!

Ruth K. Ross is a former senior human resources executive with over 30 years of experience at some of the world's most admired companies. She is the author of Coming Alive: The Journey To Reengage Your Life And Career and gets to live the dream everyday by writing and speaking about her passion for engagement. Connect with Ruth on her website or at