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Employee Stagnation? Not in My Pool

February 22, 2012

We’ve hit a patch of lovely spring weather here in south Louisiana; the trees are budding and the flowers are in bloom.  There are even mosquitos buzzing about – well, of course, they never really went away over the winter.  Soon, spring will turn into summer and our wet weather will lead to the formation of fetid and stagnant bodies of water in swimming pools, fountains, bird baths, ponds and/or low-lying areas.  A delightful breeding ground for more mosquitos.  Ick.


1. Not moving or flowing; motionless.
2. Foul or stale from standing: stagnant ponds.
3. Showing little or no sign of activity or advancement; not developing or progressing; inactive: a stagnant economy.
b. Lacking vitality or briskness; sluggish or dull: a stagnant mind.


Over the last several years of the sluggish economy we’ve been warned that once things pick up, employees who have felt their careers stand-still will leave their organizations in droves.  These stories, of course, have been targeted to organizational leaders, managers and HR professionals with stern reminders to make sure that even during times of slashed budgets and lowered headcount we make sure to keep long-term engagement tactics in mind.  And certainly, many many employees have mentally checked out over the last few years; the value proposition into which they entered with their employer was determined to be a crock – ennui set-in, perhaps a bit of passive-aggressive behavior was exhibited.  Refrains of “my employer doesn’t care about me so I’m just going to do the minimum until I can get the hell outta here” rang out down corporate hallways and at post-work happy hour gatherings around the globe.

But employees have been listless and lifeless for decades.  Who among us hasn’t worked with someone who pops in each day, sits at their desk or stands at their work station and churns out the bare minimum?  Gordon in IT hasn’t bothered to upgrade his skills with any new technolgies for years and the only thing that gets Gail in the Customer Billing Department moving is free cake in the break room.

I’ve seen it, you’ve seen and managers the world over have let it occur.  Gail has became motionless and content to just hang-out and collect a paycheck and her manager has allowed her tepid-non-moving soul to do just that.

And while the ultimate responsibility rests with Gail to once again demonstrate some activity and get her groove back, there’s also an absolute necessity for her manager to stir up the water.

If the water in my backyard pond sits a little too long without something moving it around I see a change pretty quickly.  I’ve got to go outside send Mr. S out to dump that green, brackish water and scour out the algae that’s starting to form on the sides.  He primes the pump, turns on the spigot and gets everything moving again.

So Gail – turn on your pump.  Or your manager is going to do it for you.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012 6:41 am

    I love your post. I am not exactly in the same pool, but understand this problem whee we have under-utilised and over-qualified people in very under-stimulating roles, and quite frankly, there’s a cognitive surplus to coin a fine phrase! My work in a large corporation has since 2004 focused on how to channel that cognitive surplus in a way that is highly meaningful at employee level and the corporation gets benefits back in spades!

    • Robin Schooling permalink*
      February 22, 2012 7:19 pm

      I am stealing and gonna find a way to use the phrase “cognitive surplus”!

  2. February 22, 2012 2:00 pm

    I like Annalie’s notion of a cognitive surplus! If people aren’t using what they’ve got, of course they’re going to stagnate. I guess I just don’t subscribe to the idea that Gordon has to upgrade his skills every few years — that’s his choice, of course — but his manager should know what Gordon’s skills-upgrade strategy is and why Gordon has adopted it. If their paths (the manager’s, and Gordon’s) continue to wend together, that’s fine; if they don’t, they should both be communicating about the rubs. When employers saw that they couldn’t rely on their employers anymore to take any responsibility for the employees’ career development or advancement, a lot of them stopped trying. Let’s face it, it’s we employers who broke the social contract — I used to write the stuff myself that said “We hope you enjoy a long career here at XYZ Industries.” So we can’t really complain now when employees mentally check out. From their viewpoint employers checked out of them ages ago, and never even bothered to mention it.

    • Robin Schooling permalink*
      February 22, 2012 7:18 pm

      And I think this is the key –> “his manager should know what Gordon’s skills-upgrade strategy is and why Gordon has adopted it.” Somtimes, if the employee has ‘gone still’ then it’s the managers job to get it moving again.

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