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The Downside of the Upswing

The Coming Crisis in the Unhappy Workplace.


In case you haven’t heard, the economy is improving. Drop the Balloons! Break out the ticker tape! Let loose the pigeons! The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) preliminary figures for the fourth quarter show 3.2% growth, unemployment has dropped to 6.6% (down .6% since October) and that has most everyone feeling hopeful that the great economic downturn might finally beDave point right history.


Consumer confidence is growing and hiring is picking up speed, which is all good news. Well, maybe not all good news. There’s a dark side to the economic picture, too.

There’s still a high level of disengagement and an epidemic of distrust in the workplace. Gallup says that over two-thirds of the workforce isn’t fully engaged. Almost one-fifth undermines the work of others (active disengagement) and a Maritz poll shows levels of trust in leaders and co-workers stands at a sub-congressional 7%. Beyond the obvious costs of lost productivity, absenteeism, conflicts, and mistakes related to low morale and broken trust, there’s another reason to be concerned; as the economy improves, where it’s bad now, it’s likely going to get worse.


According to an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2009, a tough job market can mask unhappiness as folks hang onto the security of their jobs, but at the first sign of improving options, guess who leaves first? Even in tough times, real talent usually has a sense of its worth and when there are choices available, they tend to be the first ones to exercise them. As business picks up, though, more workplaces that didn’t invest in the happiness of their employees during the protracted sellers’ job market are going to feel the pain acutely when team members with the most options begin to go, leaving behind those who have the fewest.


Now is the time to look to the emotional needs of your people. They need to be recognized and to feel connected and cared about. They need to have a reason to smile at work, to work in a culture that is consistent with their own values, to be challenged and rewarded in equal measure. Sure, it’s the right thing to do, but if that’s not enough of a reason for you, think of it this way, if your workers aren’t happy now, you probably aren’t going to be happy later.

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