I used to work in a prison. The only thing separating me from the inmates was I was only locked up from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm when they let me go home. For the duration of the working day, I was a prisoner like everyone else. When those doors shut behind me, I was in lockup just like those on death row.
My prison experience got me thinking about how we feel imprisoned at work. Many of us are sentenced to life sentences in vocations that we cannot escape. We are surrounded by 4 walls of toxic leaders, disengagement, low morale and low expectations. We feel like we are stuck in a rut which is basically a grave with two holes in it.
If you feel trapped in your job you are not alone. Modern Survey, an organization that measures workplace intensity, released a statistic in 2015 that 70% of USA workers take pride in their jobs. Despite the fact, that nearly 70% of the same workers claim they are disengaged.
A similar trend holds true in the federal government. Commitment and satisfaction levels of federal employees have been trending downward since 2010 when feds achieved their highest engagement level of 65%. They have marginally increased since 2015 although nowhere close to the good ole days of 2010. Yet, most federal workers claim they inherently like the work they do.
Aon Hewitt, a human resources and management consultant firm has come up with unique term to describe chronically disengaged workers- “workplace prisoners.” A person who indicates they will stay at their organization despite a lack of motivation to give their best effort and a lack of positive things to say about their organization.
According to Aon Hewitt, prisoners represent the lifers in an organization with tenure of at least 10-26 years with their organizations. This supports a trend that prisoners are more likely to stay with one employer. As one person described them in my office, they are retired in place.
Aon Hewitt also claims that 25% of prisoners say that bad performance management by their supervisors gets in the way of achievement. This issue has emerged as the number 1 driver of engagement in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey in the form of constructive performance conversations-Does my supervisor provide me with helpful suggestions to improve my job performance?
The most surprising finding by Aon Hewitt was that prisoners may be interested in another job but forego those opportunities because they are satisfied with their pay. In other words, they stay put because their value plummets in an open market since they are currently being paid more than they are worth.
Finally, Aon Hewitt reports that only 40% of prisoners indicate that their managers encouraged them to do their best.
Prisoners in the workplace remind of the song “The Bartender Blues” written by James Taylor and performed by the late George Jones. It talks about a bartender who does not like her job but does not mind the pay.
We may have more in common with the bartender then we think. We need 4 walls around us to hold our life-to keep us from slipping away. Even if those walls are the ones we find at work.
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