Are 24% of Your Employees Passive Saboteurs?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Every leader's worst nightmare is that one of her team members is actively trying to bring down the
organization. In truth, Tracy Maylett's research shows only about 4% of employees fall into that category. Far more dangerous, Maylett points out, are the 24% of your team members who are passive saboteurs. The good news is you can take action to fix this problem.


As a manager, you want to make sure employees are happy. Why? Because happy employees will stay with your company. These days, leaders hear that employees require specific perks to stay on the job. Younger employees, especially, have grown up in a culture of entitlement. These team members expect paid time off to volunteer at their favorite charity. They want health club memberships, meals paid for by the company, and games in the break room.

If you’re like many leaders, you might have even surveyed your employees to find out what they want. Once you offer all of these benefits, you expect to find your team members actively engaged in the projects you’ve assigned to them. Actually, you’ve only satisfied their superficial wants. And, as Maylett points out, you’ve set up a transactional environment. This environment is a perfect set-​up for passive sabotage. Sure, your people say they're happy. But are they really going to stay late to fix a problem that can make a difference to your bottom line? Probably not.


To truly engage employees, you need to go further. If you want your team members to care about their jobs, make them feel like their opinions matter. They need to understand how their work contributes to the bottom line in a meaningful way. Getting at this information takes more than a company survey. Your first-​line managers need to solicit feedback and opinions. These managers should also be communicating with team members about how the feedback is being used. If a new idea for a product or service is incorporated, senior leaders should publicly acknowledge the employee’s contribution.

Maylett says adding perks to keep employees happy is expensive. That’s true. Engaging employees is also expensive, but in a different way. This type of interaction costs serious management time. In the long run, this investment will be worth your time. If you want your disengaged team members to offer their opinions on how to fix a problem or to stay late on occasion, let them know you value them. Take that big first step toward erasing negative culture.