Low employee morale? Paint cheesy quotes on the wall

*Disclaimer: Ranting up ahead. Beware.

This week, I celebrated my 1 year anniversary since leaving a company where I spent almost 5 years. When I chose to leave for a new opportunity, a lot of people were surprised. They always called me a “lifer” because of my die-hard commitment to the company and the late hours I spent at the office. Though I had intentions of staying, I felt like I was on a slippery downhill slope.

Within a 3-month period, I saw a series of pointless initiatives, confusing ideas, conflicting direction and a whack load of empty promises. Worse yet, the office morale was very poor and employee morale got increasingly toxic. Everyone was either looking for a new job or talked about looking for a new job. Negativity became normality there. Now that I’ve been gone for over a year, I can candidly express what was seriously not normal about that place, especially in how they addressed the low employee morale.

To increase morale, read this book… and do some homework

“We know you work hard. But here, read this book… on your spare time. And do this homework… on your spare time.” When you’re already spending late hours at work and logging in on weekends to do work, the last thing you want to do in your spare time is read a book that work is making you read.

I have nothing against The Oz Principle (I really don’t), but I had a serious problem with being forced by my employer to read a book during my personal time, which I didn’t really have much of. Let me clarify that the issue wasn’t reading the book per se. It wasn’t even about the homework exercises or the mandatory discussions the next day. The issue was: the company seemed to show zero appreciation for the late hours and hard work many employees committed. Several people put in tons of overtime hours due to lack of resources, unreasonable expectations and yesterday deadlines. Yet we got reprimanded for not reading our chapters and submitting our homework on time. Seriously?

Rather than cultivating positivity and motivation, this exercise did the opposite

“When you see a problem, you have to… what class? That’s right – see it, own it, solve it, do it!” Considering the book was about taking accountability and ownership for our actions, I understood the purpose behind this initiative was to boost employee morale. You get an E for effort, but you definitely missed the mark on that one, Executives.

Not only did this exercise take away from people’s time (both personal and work hours that could have been better spent doing actual work), but it also aggravated several people, myself especially. Everybody worked really hard at that company, and lecturing the employees about doing more, being accountable and taking ownership sent us the message that our hard work wasn’t good enough. I’ve always been considered by my peers and employers as someone with incredible work ethic, who takes initiative and gets things done no matter what. So to me, those lectures were a slap in the face.

You can’t force epiphanies… people need to experience them on their own

The personal realization and inspiration that one should take accountability and strive harder needs to be reached naturally. You can’t shove principles down someone’s throat and expect them to adopt those principles as if they were personal epiphanies. Inspiration doesn’t work that way. There’s a saying that goes: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” In order for people to change their way of thinking, they have to be truly inspired. Otherwise, like children who just go to church because their parents make them, employees just read the book because the guy who signs their cheques told them to.

Writings on the wall… Nothing but graffiti

One of the last Oz-inspired activities that took place when I was leaving the company was a series of quotes being painted on the office walls to remind employees of what they learned from their crash course on Oz. Perhaps there are some who find those quotes inspiring, and if that’s the case then I suppose their purpose has been fulfilled. But when I saw those quotes, they were just a sad reminder of the pathetic attempt to raise employee morale, the slap in the face that my hard work was meaningless, and the hours I’ll never get back from reading that book (and Googling my homework answers).

Considering most of my colleagues and friends are still there, I presume things got better after I left. But they had to get a lot worse before they really got better. From the regular updates I seem to get, a lot has changed within the organization since my departure, and hopefully those changes will make a difference.

Again, let me express that I have nothing against the book. It had several valuable principles, and if I had chosen to read it on my own, I probably would have found it life-changing (okay, maybe not life-changing, but perhaps semi-inspiring). I understand that the goal of forcing that book upon us was to boost employee morale. As I said earlier, good effort but epic fail.

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