The Stepford Employee Fallacy

Leaders, how many of you out there have sat wringing your hands in frustration over less-than-stellar performance due to the poor state of engagement within your teams? Wouldn’t it be grand if your employees would just give 110% every day, their priorities aligned with yours at all times? Oh, how the shareholders would delight if only your employees would go above and beyond all day every day! The sales! The profits! The cost savings! And just imagine how much free time you would have if you didn’t even have to lift a finger – the employees would just be constantly engaged because that’s their job. That’s how Employee Engagement works, right?

Let me ask you something: Have you ever seen the movie The Stepford Wives? It’s a 1975 thriller based on a novel of the same name. In the movie, a woman and her family move to a seemingly idyllic town in Connecticut where all the women are “perfect” and unquestioningly submit to their husbands. It turns out that the reason these women – these Stepford wives – are so content to do their husbands’ bidding is because they are robots. They are programmed to think, act, and speak in a way that pleases their husbands without any pesky needs, opinions, wants, or rights to make things difficult.

Many leaders today believe their employees are nothing more than means to achieve company goals. “Human capital” is expected to be fully engaged and invested in executing organizational priorities because they are paid to do so. But the thing is, employees are people. They aren’t robots and they aren’t going to be engaged because you expect them to be. This is a dangerous fallacy that needs to be exposed for what it is: pure fiction.

I call it the Stepford Employee Fallacy.

Below are seven beliefs that make up the Stepford Employee Fallacy. Each belief is accompanied by a set of questions to help you determine if you are on the right engagement path. If you can’t honestly and affirmatively answer these questions about yourself and your organization, then you’ve probably consciously (or unconsciously) subscribed to the Stepford Employee Fallacy. You must stop deluding yourself with these misguided assumptions, because they will do nothing to engage your employees. Always keep this point in mind and let it guide you in your Employee Engagement strategy: Employees don’t engage themselves; leaders engage employees.

Belief # 1: Engaged employees will exert discretionary effort just because they’re getting a paycheck

What is your organization’s Employee Value Proposition and is it enough to inspire discretionary effort?

Do leaders in your organization understand the most effective (and ineffective) ways to inspire their teams?

Do you make a point of finding out your employees’ individual engagement levers?

Belief # 2: Engaged employees will forget about their personal problems when they come in to work

Do you foster a caring, humane, empathetic work environment?

Do you have employee assistance resources available and do employees know about them?

Belief # 3: Engaged employees will act as brand ambassadors regardless of the company’s current state, its culture, or the quality of its products

What differentiates your organization from your competitors and do your employees have confidence that this will drive long term success?

Do you reward innovative thinkers and boundary pushers who know how to fulfill your organization’s vision, mission, and goals?

Do you proactively and sincerely seek out employee feedback on how your organization can be better at what it does?

Belief # 4: Engaged employees will listen to and respect you just because you have a title

Is your leadership style collaborative and collegial, or do you lead through command and control, intimidation and fear?

Do your employees trust that you have their best interests at heart and that you will put forth an effort to earn said trust?

Belief # 5: Engaged employees will sacrifice personal time in favor of company needs

Do you offer a generous paid time off policy and encourage employees to use it?

Are you adequately staffed so employees feel that they can take time off without suffering a massive backlog upon their return?

Do you accommodate employees’ personal lives and recognize that their time outside of work is more important to them?

Belief # 6: Engaged employees can handle steadily growing workloads without any impact on their productivity or general well being

Do you view employees as human assets that grow and add value, or merely liabilities that cut into the bottom line?

Do you have a “no layoffs” policy, or, at the very least, a complete and detailed understanding of how reductions in force can negatively affect remaining employees?

Do you provide employees with the tools, resources, and support to do their work, or do you tell them to do more with less?

Belief # 7: Engaged employees will remain loyal no matter how they are treated or whether they are fulfilled by their work

Do you tap into employees unique skills and passions, and give them opportunities to bring their best selves to work?

Do you treat employees with respect, integrity, humanity, fairness, and empathy?

Do you encourage employees to seek out new professional experiences and support them in doing so?

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