Demotivated Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a demotivated boss.

My boss has become demotivated for the past few months and I find myself having to agree with her whenever she complains to me about work. I feel like we’re wasting effort or time on sulking about things that can’t be changed – like office politics or the workload or the bad personality of our department head (a bully-type).

She’s so demotivated that during an interview for an opening in our department, when one applicant asked why she has stayed in our company for so long, she practically just said that she stays because she had to pay the bills and raise her children. (Now even if that is true, it doesn’t seem like a proper thing to say to an applicant. Not very encouraging.) I’m not sure if my boss’s attitude is affecting my disposition already but I’m sure that I don’t want to have to deal with this kind of negativity everyday. What do I do?

Signed, Subordinate of Demotivated Boss

Dear Subordinate of Demotivated Boss:

From what you don’t say, I assume you haven’t had the courage to confront her. You have chosen the course of least resistance; to support her complaining. In short you have become co-dependent, confirming her self-destructive course of no action. Because this has been a pattern for several months, a quick fix is not in the cards. However, there is hope for change in the fact that you are looking in the mirror to assess your boss-bossed working relationship. You are wise both to look within and outside your workplace for an approach to answer your question. My thoughts are from a distance and may not address what is going on but they should add to what you see.

So here is what I see: You have a sense of the way it should be. That is to say, you want to be excited about your job; you don’t like to think the effort and time are of little significance. That’s good. Most likely you feel guilty for buying in to your boss’s badmouthing her boss (who might deserve it) and your workplace.You lack ideas about what might be done to change the atmosphere and more importantly make positive change. Assuming this is true, here are suggestions for your consideration:

1. Begin with a concerted effort of self-improvement. Join with others doing what you think might better your psychological health, such as workouts, dancing, yoga, singing in a choir, taking a class for a subject far different from your job, volunteering as a tutor, etc. Why? Because you deserve to have some joy in life in spite of the down-talk at work. Also because if you are excited about being all that you can be that will carry over into the workplace.

2. Put your brain to work about small things you and your boss might do to make each others jobs easier and more effective. For example:

· Set aside five minutes at the beginning of the day or week to applaud what you’ve done well.

· Disclose your career dreams with your boss and ask about hers. Think collaboratively about what you each might achieve within the working world and also if not there, as an avocation.

· Conspire to brighten your work area; green plants, displaying rotating works of art by local artists, motivating posters.

· Hammering out do and don’t communication rules for the two of you or for all those with whom you work. Talk about talk can make instructions clearer, discourage negativity, and promote constructive mindedness.

3. Think big. Go beyond your work group. Investigate your organization; what does it have to say about itself on the Internet and what employee assistance resources are provided. Northwestern Mutual, a company I interviewed a few years ago on a nationwide study, showed me over a hundred extra-work activities that its employees created. 3M allows its employees to use 15% of their time on projects that might become profitable, such as post it notes have.

Engage your boss and coworkers in quality improvement efforts; cutting wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy, wasted money. Institute skull sessions on quality improvement. Compete for your state’s quality improvement projects. These are more than enough to consider. I can tell that you will not sit idly by and soak up negativity. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is what can happen when we each take on the fat and apathy in “that’s just the way it is” mindedness that so easily comes with organizational life.

William Gorden