Management Tips

What’s the biggest employee issue in the workplace today and how do we solve it?

Feeling used.

Do you know any companies that do that to their employees? Use them.

When a company builds a product the product is a commodity and a commodity does not have feelings, a commodity cannot learn and a commodity cannot show initiative. So, why do so many companies treat their human resources like just that; commodities? Is it because those in the trade of selling ideas are themselves commoditised or are treated like a commodity?

You know the answer to that question.

There are no fast solutions to that question and it plagues many industries. That’s probably why human resource management is such a strong industry in itself. There is an unending need to address the issues of employees who feel exploited, used and generally are treated like a widget.

Are you a widget?

As a leader, future leader, manager, director or any type of team leader no matter how big or small your team, division or company a commoditised workforce is the kiss of death for continued productivity.

What do we mean when we say employees are treated as commodities? Have you ever worked somewhere where your opinion is not valued? Have you ever been told to do it my way or the highway? Have you ever been asked to complete a task and when you see a failure coming your suggestions are not considered? Have you ever been given something to do that is out of your skill set and been told to figure it out on your own? Do you feel like if you don’t work harder, longer hours than the next guy your job might be compromised? When you go to work each day are you looking forward to the end of the day? Are you afraid to make mistakes?

You are a commodity.

What are we going to do about it? There are a myriad of ways to solve the problems associated with a commoditised workforce but before we get into that the burning question every leadership individual will certainly ask is why they should change anything if in their mind it’s already working. You are getting the job done, you are making a profit and your bonus is good at the end of the year. And that’s that. Who cares if your direct reports are happy or not; they produce.

What’s the right question to ask?

Well, I am going to challenge that by asking you to ask your team this one simple question. Would you recommend the firm to a friend or a colleague? If the answer is not yes then you have some serious work to do. Now I realize that you are not going to be able to please everyone all the time but the question will certainly paint a clear picture especially if you have the guts to ask why if the answer is no. By asking this question you will likely expose the issues that are at the core of how a commodity worker sees their job and it’s actually an easy way to build a list of improvement opportunities. Yes, opportunities.

So, now we have a way to find out how your employees or team feels about their value in the firm. Now what? Well, there is no way for me to know exactly what will come out of a group or what the exact issues will be but after years of working in a management position I have been on both sides of the equation and there are some common themes that I have experienced. All of it boils down to one word.


  1. Being heard.
  2. Being valued.
  3. Asked for an opinion.
  4. Given opportunity to try new things.
  5. Given the opportunity to fail.

What happens when you challenge your team and give them the opportunity to come to you for help? What happens when you recognize a job well done not with a day off or a lunch but with the opportunity of a greater level of autonomy? What happens when you tell your team that they can ask for help whenever they need it and let them make the decisions independently that they need to be successful? What happens when you ask your direct reports what they think the best way to solve the problem is? What happens when you ask your employees if they have an idea to help enhance efficiency? 


 Yeah, it’s Aretha Franklin time!

An inclusionary attitude is what you end up with. People start to see the potential of their involvement actually making a difference in their job and in the goals of your projects. This most certainly doesn’t happen overnight and it has to start with you; the leader, manager, director. So, you have to ask yourself what type of leadership professional you are. Are you open to learning? Can you learn from your team? Or are you set in your ways? If you are set in your ways you first step is with you. You have to understand how you can look for ways to see failure as a learning opportunity. This is something we will address in a subsequent post but in the interim ask yourself this simple question: What is the harm in trying to learn something new? If you can’t answer it or have an opinion then please let me know in the comments below or send me an email directly and we can talk.

If you are open to change then bravo!

We need to start slowly. One thing at a time and one day at a time. So, let’s start with a very simple list of things that you can do to start making a difference today. 

  1. Observe what is happening around you. See the dynamic. Watch body language. Are you approachable?
  2. Say thank you to your team for their effort. Personally and not in an email.
  3. Ask some of your leadership to a coffee and talk to them about their work. Write down what they say even if it hurts.
  4. Ask your direct reports how they are doing? Listen to them. They may complain or they may stay silent and if they do keep asking and simply listen. No rebuttals. Not now.

Learn from them. Then take what you learned and address it with them a little at a time. Weekly staff meetings are a good way to address systemic issues and if you recognize something, a pattern, you have to act on it. This is critical. Otherwise address issues with action plans for change. It doesn’t have to be complex. It really just starts by listening and observing and ends with recognizing your team’s effort. Offering growth opportunities will come with time.

The result of changing the pattern is palpable.

How do I know all this?

I was one of those managers in one of those companies where my value was not recognized and where I did not recognize my team’s value. I just got the job done and got the heck out of there. For three years my growth was non-existent. Sure, I worked hard and I even got promoted but there is not value in a title if you do not continue to learn. For me, I had to move on to see the forest for the trees because the management did not have any interest in the vision of recognition and as a result nor did I. Since then, I have had the opportunity to practice this tenet of inclusionary management for over 18 months now and we are starting to reap the benefits from it. My team is aware, they want to achieve, they participate in our success and they share the failures equally. More over they help their fellow team members succeed when they fail and share their knowledge actively and without provocation.

Are we financially successful? Of course we are. But more importantly our clients are happy. They respect and value us because we have an attitude of learning and use our knowledge to improve process, share lessons learned and build on improving their product.

Everyone wins.

Can you do that with a commoditised workforce?

  •  What can you do to be more inclusionary in your job?
  • How can you find ways to listen to your team?
  • When is the best time to act on an issue for you?

About rdopping

interior design guy who loves other stuff; social media, photography, film, food and anything that is good for the growth of the self


6 thoughts on “What’s the biggest employee issue in the workplace today and how do we solve it?

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Ralph. I’ve been in a company where certain managers viewed the people who worked there as an expense/hassle rather than an asset. The ironic thing was they often said from the top levels that it was a “family” and that the people made the difference. In that particular case, most of that sentiment could be traced to one single individual.

    Unfortunately, when the executives refused to do anything about it, we lost some very key people who got frustrated and left. While this company produced some of the best products in that industry, people lost faith in the company and sales suffered. Since then, that manager was a victim of his own “downsizing plan” and they are slowly recovering. Too bad it took a dive that severe to force a refocus on the people.

    Keep it up!

    Posted by Stephen Owens | April 24, 2012, 08:39
    • Stephen, I suppose that’s what it takes. The term “rock bottom” seems to be synonomous with a polar shift in thinking or a catalyst for change. The very people who are mistreated are the ones who tend to bring down the house because instead of focussing on doing a good job or expanding their knowldge to improve their work style they focus on negative issues that are out of their control to solve.

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your insightful comments. Appreciated.

      Posted by rdopping | April 25, 2012, 05:38
  2. I’m a widget………

    Because we are dealing with insurance coverages, there is a certain amount of ‘care’ that needs to be exhibited in loading, processing, etc. Because we have two different offices and people at various skill levels and different backgrounds when they come to us; we do have to have some uniformity to make sure it is done the @LanierUpshaw way. However, we are always open to ways things can be handled more efficiently or effectively; that wasn’t always the case.

    Make the ‘right’ hire going in and keep the lines of communication open; this will lead to a much more productive and appreciated work force.

    Posted by billdorman | April 25, 2012, 18:06
    • Yeah but you have nice hair…….

      As a business owner I can see that you have tough choices to make. It’s great that you are open and accepting of ideas and improvement strategies. I would hope that even in the prescribed world of insurance there is opportunity to find better and more efficient ways of doing things and the guys in the treaches are the ones with the deep knowledge. Depending on the scale of the organization will depend on the level of involvement a principal can maintain. Relying on your team becomes more and more essential as you grow.

      You surely recognize what a little thanks can get you.

      So, thanks for coming by. As always, your comments are appreciated.

      Posted by rdopping | April 25, 2012, 20:46
  3. I have been “used” more times than I care to think about. Some times I think it was unintentional and just out of ignorance but there are two positions that I remember where I know they just didn’t care.

    And that lack of caring has devastating effects on morale. Who wants to work for a place like that. Almost no one.

    Posted by TheJackB (@TheJackB) | April 26, 2012, 16:24
  4. Agreed my friend. Hence the story The question is how can you chnage an environment like that? Maybe as an individual you can’t and have to move on per se. Seems as you did just that. The funny thing is that these types of places exists and somehow survive. You have to ask yourself for how long.

    Thanks for popping by Jack.

    Posted by rdopping | April 26, 2012, 21:52

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