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Leadership First recently posted a quote on LinkedIn, attributed to Tim McClure: "When passionate employees become quiet, it usually sends a signal that the work environment has become very dysfunctional."
The accompanying text chronicled the tale of a woman named Sarah, who, over time, observed troubling changes in her organization. Sarah offered feedback, but the organization did not take it seriously. She watched the culture shift from inspirational to toxic. Sarah became disengaged, lost enthusiasm, and looked for a new job.
The lesson was that team members do not lose motivation overnight. It is a slowly building accumulation of disenchantment, and it usually pushes your best talent away from the organization when it remains unaddressed. At the same time, your apathetic team members are more than happy to stay and collect a paycheck.
Sad, accurate, and completely avoidable. The quote resonated with me because I have experienced this myself in my HR career. My disengagement stemmed from disappointment with leadership and a lack of synergy between our values.
I observed that leadership made decisions from a position of personal power rather than based on what was good for the business and the people who worked very hard every day to make things happen. I acknowledge there will always be times I disagree with a decision. But, understanding how the decision came about usually allows me to be at peace with it and support it, even if I don't like it. Unfortunately, there was no peace with decisions from this leadership team.
Leadership created and supported a culture of fear, deception, mistrust, and complete disregard for people as human beings. I attempted to facilitate change, knowing it would take time. Every effort met with staunch opposition. In one conversation with my leader, I expressed it was a good sign I was still vocal and making efforts to drive change - concern should come when I get quiet.
Shortly after that conversation, I begrudgingly accepted that nothing would ever change. Compassion and integrity were not in the DNA of this leadership team. I stopped speaking up in meetings, I stopped asking questions, and I stopped trying to push the boulder uphill. My team and I did our core work, but I gave up on facilitating further change within the organization. I redirected my energy into finding another role. It was a painful mindset shift, as I felt I was letting so many people down. But, it was survival, pure and simple.
When I resigned, my leader asked, "Did I miss something? You've been so quiet lately. I thought everything was okay." I reminded them of our conversation from a few months prior when I revealed concern should come when I get quiet. My silence was screaming, but it went unnoticed.
Don't miss the message from your team members. Have you picked up on behavior changes within your team? Or are you the team member who has slowly become disengaged? I would appreciate hearing from you in the comments if you're comfortable sharing.