I Feel You But I Can’t Reach You

My father a member of the Silent Generation used this phrase all the time, “I Feel You But I Can’t Reach You.” Of course to him, the phrase was not a term of endearment. He used this refrain from a position of power as he reminded you of your lack of power. He never intended on connecting with people through these words. His agenda was one of separation.

After the recent release of a Partnership for Public Service study on 2014 satisfaction levels of the Senior Executive Service (SES) being higher than their direct reports, executives must be thinking of the same phrase. Executives graded out 22.3 points higher than the people they are partially responsible for in the workplace.

The 6 questions with the biggest gaps are primary drivers of workplace engagement: (1) promotions; (2) dealing with poor performers; (3) awards; (4) recognition; (5) creativity and innovation and (6) recognition of high performers.

This gap should be a wake up call to the federal government who likely will snooze right through this conversation until next year’s numbers report bigger gaps between the satisfaction levels of employees and their bosses.

The federal government has only itself to blame. Employees have been saying for a long time that the transactional model of engagement does not work. The reinforcement of the notion that employees have to wait for some corporate model of engagement to cascade down into their laps before they can become engaged has come back to bite us.

What is needed is a more transformational model of engagement where employees are seen as the solution and not the problem. Where employees are unshackled from programs, policies and procedures and empowered to find meaning, purpose and value in their work through organizations that engage themselves. Where employees are responsible for their own engagement and their leaders get out of their way by building workplaces where everyone can meet their full potential.

I am sure like me you have heard SES folks making statements like this:

• Disengagement is the cost of doing business
• It is not my job to keep employees engaged.
• My employees are already too entitled.
• There is nothing anyone can do about engagement.
• In the end, the only thing that matters is results.
• If I could get the wrong people off my bus and the right people on my bus.

We wonder why employees and executives have such different views of job satisfaction and commitment.

Maybe in light of this deep divide between federal government employees and the executives, we should abandon the “ I Feel You but Can’t Reach You” slogan for a different message.

How about one that reads “I Can Reach You Because I Feel Your Pain.”

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