Let’s Dissect This: Smiling, Happy People Pt. 1

  Ever been involved in a meeting that makes you want to get up and leave the room?  I got that feeling when I heard these words:

‘Never hire people who left a company because they were unhappy, they will just be unhappy working for you.  It may be eight or nine months down the road, but they will be unhappy’.

Really?  Never?  I’ve heard the statement that “no opinion is wrong”?  Well, the person who first said that statement is probably the one who also determined that every player gets a trophy because “there are no losers”.  My belief?  Somebody has to lose (I just don’t want it to be me) and there aren’t just wrong opinions, there are stupid opinions.  The opinion above is a generalization about something that is way too complex to be generalized.  It’s hard for me to sit still in the face of individuals who make these kinds of remarks and believe them!  I guess I should give credit to anyone that is so confident in their understanding of the world but I have a hard time quietly dealing with narrow perspectives, so let’s dissect it a little…shall we?

Qualifier: Unhappy people exist.  Employees are people.  Therefore there will be employees that are just unhappy people.  Most people aren’t unhappy by nature.  Call me an optimist but unhappy people are so easy to point out because they are the exception not the rule.  I say this because it explains my belief that if you work with unhappy people or morale is low there is usually a reason for this.  And no, the reason isn’t that they are just all Debbie Downer’s.  Going back to the qualifier, I’m sure that there are a few Sad Sally’s (I promise no more alliteration) but that would be minimal. Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s move on.

I have objections to the idea that when someone is unhappy at Y Company and chooses to leave they will be unhappy with Z Company and eventually do the same.   Unfortunately, there are many corporate leaders and managers that have this frame of mind, especially during an employer’s market (when there are more people in the job market than available jobs).  A wealth of thoughts, some in the form of questions and others retorts, came to mind, none of which would be perceived as positive by someone living that reality so I’ll share them here:

Thought:  A “leader” who believes this statement can’t possibly have the ability to see the full needs of their employees.  When you decide that people are unhappy without good reason you’ve thrown away valuable opportunities.  The behaviors that encourage a dissatisfied employee to come to the table with their concerns or issues are the same ones that motivate a satisfied employee to share their successes.  Both are teachable moments.  A manager that conditions himself to believe that grumbles of disapproval are the sounds of the generally unappreciative, is making a foolish error.  When someone decides that people are whiners and would be whiners anywhere he is choosing, consciously or otherwise, to ignore the needs of his people–that’s dismissive.  It’s impossible to have anything other than a shallow relationship with a dismissive individual.  If I don’t trust that you have my best interest at heart, how can I trust your opinion on my career value to your company?

Thought:  Aren’t generals responsible for the morale of their troops?  You can substitute coaches/players in to this analogy and it all boils down to the same thing, the leader has great impact on the emotions, behaviors and perspective of those who must follow.  Not a great leader, but any leader.  Every General portrays an external belief that the war can be won, how else can you get the troops to pick up their guns and march?  He leads by example because he understands the sway that he has over his soldiers.  Additionally, when the battle is won he is lauded for his bravery and leadership, shouldn’t he be held accountable if the war is lost?  Bottom line, if your people are unhappy you bear some of the responsibility.

Thought:  This is a level of denial that could destroy or hinder a company.  Acceptance is the first action step in taking responsibility, denial has no place in that process.  Acknowledging and accepting issues at hand allows you to address and resolve.  That’s right….Acknowledge, Accept, Address and Resolve.

What do you get from denial?  Repetition of detrimental behaviors.  If being on time is important for a project oriented workplace, the employee that’s consistently late has to be addressed or the behavior will continue and the work will be impacted, right?  So, why not openly discuss employee concerns that are hindering internal success.   When someone feels undervalued or overlooked the best option is to speak about it.

Thought:  Holy Generation Gap, Batman!  Woe to the man who seeks the resume with one job!  You’ll be searching a long time.  The days of the gold watch and retirement are gone–employees know that, some employers want to ignore it.   Today’s corporate structures, financial economies and behaviors don’t provide as much access to the 25 year pin that many would welcome.  Sure, there are people who are proverbial “job hoppers” but they aren’t included in the masses that are seeking the best opportunity for their success and a place to call home.  Staying and working through the pain, year after year without a commitment to change is no longer the way of the world.  I believe that great employees have a sense of expectation based on their work and poor employees have a sense of entitlement.  Identify the two and take care of your people.

Thought: Says the Rich Man to the Poor Man.  No need to bring out the socialist banner and slap it on me, I’m just acknowledging that it’s very easy for the rich man to call the poor man ungrateful when he has full control of his destiny.  Employees that choose to look are often doing it because the environment isn’t theirs to change and they are aware that they can do better.  How ironic that we hold people accountable for their lack of wealth and positions in the world but call them unappreciative when they attempt to change it by seeking new opportunity!

The interesting thing is that I have heard this mindset expressed in other ways throughout my professional career in other ways, from people who have believed themselves to be visionary managers.  Statements like: “If you’re not happy, there’s the door”,  “This trains leaving the station and if you’re not on it, oh well”…lots of quipped, little expressions of power from small minded perspectives.  If you have said something like this or think this way, today would be a good day to reevaluate your standard of leadership.  Is it possible for those words to come from a good place?  Are they actually motivating? If this is your modus operandi, should you be managing?


8 thoughts on “Let’s Dissect This: Smiling, Happy People Pt. 1

  1. Great post! I have to admit the, “Never hire people who left a company because they were unhappy, …” statement is one of the dumbest business comments I’ve ever heard. I hope it wasn’t coming from someone in HR. Having said that, I wouldn’t advise anyone to go into a job interview with a list of things that are wrong with their current employer. Leaving because you are unhappy is smart, smart for you and smart for your employer if you’ve disengaged. Sharing dirty laundry in a job interview is almost as silly as the “never hire…” statement. As a potential employer it would make me uneasy about your ability to be discrete. Sometimes its good to just say that it was time for a change, a new challenge or different perspective.

    • Absolutely Debra! You nailed what will be part 3 of this post (how you should engage when you’re unhappy). The comment didn’t come from HR, unfortunately, because many HR people are process oriented–it wouldn’t be an unusual statement in that department. This was from someone higher up the food chain–that’s when it’s scary! Many people make the mistake of saying they weren’t happy but others don’t and a person at this level might just make an assumption. An interviewer with this mindset might think that leaving a company for any reason other than it shutting down is a problem because he stayed with one company for 20 years! You can’t control how they view things but you are very right that you can avoid making any obvious negative statements about a previous employer. Thanks for reading!

  2. I always felt like the odd teacher out when I would admit to being over-worked and disgruntled with many aspects of my job. It’s easy to lay blame on the unhappy person and tell them to look for the positive, when really, maybe the higher-up need to be more in-tune with the woes of the peons. This topic really strikes a cord with me. Two years post classroom and I could do on and on all day about “happiness” in the workplace and teachers who willingly take on the role of martyr…

    • Teachers are an interesting lot when it comes to topics like this. They are either very unhappy and you hear it or they are really good at pretending to be happy. To your point, the ones that are generally happy with their roles sometimes hesitate or flat refuse to address necessary issues and yes, it can lead to martyrdom (feelings of being underpaid, overwork, but having no recourse). As for those who write off their unhappy employees, I think it’s a sign of not being able to address what they consider to be systemic issues, but instead of admitting that weakness they assign it to the employee.

  3. Wow, someone actually said that statement? Hm. Wouldn’t you also want an employee who was bold and confident enough to know when a position wasn’t right, they weren’t being challenged enough or they weren’t being respected as a person? You’re right that this may be due to a different generation coming into the workplace that don’t think its necessary to stick it out in a position just because they think they should and will rather work to be where they’re happy.

    • Unfortunately someone did say it…confidently! While there is a tendency for longevity in positions to occur among the younger generations (even those that are considered Gen X), I think it’s also important to note that companies aren’t always offering that level of long term “promise” and employees are responsible for managing their careers. Like you said, you gotta be bold and confident enough to know what moves you should make and make them.

  4. I found the “generation gap” piece especially resonant. Anyone holding the attitude you’re dissecting here assumes “we’ll be the same kind of jerks the person’s last employers were.” That’s a throwback attitude. In the 70s when I entered the workforce, (especially after stagflation his the US economy), employment practices were almost uniformly bad. Thus if anyone was unhappy in a job, it was because they couldn’t handle the conditions of employment. Few companies had the cleverness to say “Let’s be a better employer.”

    • Agreed! The first thing I thought was that this person knew that he couldn’t offer anything better and rather than address/repair it he would write it off as “the employees fault”. The generation gap seems to be the greatest inhibitor to professional growth and success currently. The older generations don’t believe that the Gen X and Millenial gen works hard enough and the Gen X and Millenials don’t believe that the older gen appreciates work/life balance or them! It’s amazing that many companies that have the desire to “be better employers” are often judged for the looseness of their environments but seem to be highly productive: Google, Zappos, etc.

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