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Issue: 61 - Jan 15, 2014
Words from the Past May Enlighten Today’s Bosses
By: Maureen Blaney Flietner
Mavourneen LLC/MBF Communications

Apparently most American workers are just “present” at their jobs. So how do you inspire them to care?

The topic crossed my mind when I read some letters written about 30 years ago. They are part of my accumulation of family history items: newspaper clippings, birth and death records, documents, notes, photos, scrapbooks, certificates, genealogy charts, funeral cards.

The letters were from one of many people a relative had supervised during his career. The letter writer had been transferred from that relative’s supervision to work under another boss. But, after working more than a year in that new situation, the letter writer went from an engaged to a disengaged employee. 

From enthusiastic to gloomy

As that man detailed it, his work atmosphere went from “an enthusiastic and affirmative environment in which the opportunity for success was prevalent” to a situation where the atmosphere has become “negative, critical, and gloomy with this pollution permeating the staff and diminishing all chances for advancement.”

It was so bad that the man – sole provider to his family – made the major decision to resign. He wrote that it was impossible to work for his new boss who offered no support or consideration for his employees.

Before he resigned, the man wrote a letter to my relative, saying that the resignation offered him the opportunity to express his candid evaluation of their working relationship.

The words are from one man to another at one workplace at one point in history but they seem to transcend time and place.

An ‘honor’ to work for

With his letter, this person revealed how he was engaged and inspired at work by a man he clearly viewed as a great boss, one he felt it an “honor” to work for.

This man’s words were:

  • When I need support, you are always available for consultation, direction, and representation.
  • The tasks you assign me are always crystal clear.
  • I respect when constructive criticism is in order, but more overwhelming are the occasions when you commend us for a job well done. Believe it or not, that is extremely difficult for many supervisors. It is a pleasure to report to work under those conditions.
  • You delegate praise yet shoulder blame. Only a true professional can handle that.
  • Your relationship has always been on a professional business basis.
  • You exhibit tact in accomplishing our mission.
  • There is not even the slightest procrastination in getting a response from you.
  • You consistently demonstrate the enforcement of stated policy.
  • You make certain we operate in accordance with the law.
  • You possess the most enviable of all virtues, that of honesty.

The words are worth considering, especially since Gallup’s 2013 State of the AmericanWorkplace does not paint a pretty picture of what is happening in today’s businesses.

Gallup’s report from its ongoing study from 2010 through 2012  revealed that 50% of those who hold full-time jobs are just “present” but not inspired by their work or their managers. About 20% are said to be actively disengaged and so upset they spread discontent about their bosses.

The good news it found was that 30% of workers are engaged, presumably happy with their occupations. But just 22% are engaged and thriving.

Managers need special skills

The Gallup report provides several suggestions for improvements along that theme. They include selecting managers with the right talents and not using managerial posts as promotional prizes along career paths; coaching managers and holding them accountable for employee engagement; defining engagement goals in realistic, everyday terms; and finding ways to connect with each employee.

Some bosses may not care whether their workers are engaged. With philosophies more akin to an unenlightened Ebeneezer Scrooge, they may think that anyone employed should consider themselves lucky to have a job.

But there are good reasons to want a worker who is engaged – someone enthusiastic and willing to invest effort in their work, enjoying the challenge and gaining pride from their accomplishments.

According to that Gallup research, engaged workers have higher productivity, profitability and customer ratings. They have fewer accidents and fewer quality defects in their work and incur less in health care costs.

So the bottom line is that it is worth it to make changes to engage employees. When employees are engaged and thriving in their overall lives, notes Gallup research, they are more likely to maintain strong work performance, even during difficult times.

Perhaps if today’s bosses considered those comments from the past, those words of praise would soon be echoed by engaged employees across the country.

Maureen Blaney Flietner, a former newspaper journalist, is a fulltime freelance writer, editor and designer who has crafted messages for target audiences for more than 13 years. Visit her website at