Why is the policy like that? I don’t know; I just work here.
Why do they make decisions without understanding what we go through daily? I have no clue; I just work here.
Why are they posting the position when they already know who will get the job? Your guess is as good as mine; I just work here.
They said they don’t have time to train but hired a new employee that they must train; why is that? Sis! That is the question of the year, but I stay in my area because I just work here.
Why are they more concerned about what I have on than ensuring employees are engaged? I stopped trying to figure out why they do what they do long ago; I just work here.
So, they really don’t appreciate professional development outside of the organization that will help me develop my leadership skills and reach in the community, which will help the organization. Nope, there were crickets when I told them about my accomplishment, but when they shared an accomplishment of someone, they felt obligated to share, but I just work here.
Does the Board really not know…never mind, I won’t go there, but I know the answer: you just work here, right?!
At some point in your career, have you ever answered a question with the phrase, I don’t know, I just work here or something similar? You are not alone. I, too, have found myself answering similarly. Sometimes, my response was to make light of a conversation. There were also times when I did not know the answer, then there were times when I did know the answer but needed time to think about my response, but then there were times when I really stopped caring because nothing was going to change, anyway, right?
You may have responded with that phrase for the same or many other reasons. Still, the truth is that while saying I just work here sort of brushes off the topic at hand, this mentality can be detrimental to an organization’s culture. But whose problem is it?
Let’s start with why the I just work here mentality is detrimental to an organization’s culture. I often define culture as the organization’s core values and identity created through consistent behaviors and attitudes and is manifested everywhere within the organization. Just by this definition, the I just work here mentality, which is an attitude and behavior, can be the straw that breaks the company’s culture.
Employees with this mentality sometimes don’t know the answer, but other times, they have checked out of the culture and are just collecting a check. They don’t feel valued or appreciated and are not motivated to do anything extra for the organization. Having this mentality leads to disengagement and is toxic to any organization. Disengagement leads to low morale, where employees are less likely to collaborate, meet deadlines, resist change, and are more likely to make mistakes and burn out quickly, ultimately leaving the job in hopes of finding something better. Some leaders might think this type of employee should go ahead and leave if they are not happy, and while this is an option, the leader’s attitude could be one of the reasons the employee has the I just work here mentality.
So, back to the question of whose problem is it when an employee has the I just work here mentality? The employee and organization’s leaders are responsible for overcoming the mindset to become more engaged.
First, let’s take a look at the employee.
My friend/mentor and I were conversing about our jobs, which led to her asking me if I were a tree. My immediate reply was no. Her response was, Well, trees have no choice; the moment they are planted, they are stuck. She was reminding me that I have choices. She told me that I could stay without changing my mindset, stay and take action by making a change in how I approached my purpose within the organization, or, while she wasn’t advocating for me to leave, leave but remembering that the grass isn’t always greener, but it could be!
So, for those with the I just work here mentality, remember that you are not a tree, so do not act like one. You have the ability to take your talents to another level by rediscovering the purpose of your work. Dig deep and remember that what you do makes a difference in someone else’s life and contributes to the organization’s success. While in your rediscovering process, seeking opportunities for growth and feedback, which includes discussing with your immediate manager how and when your attitude and behaviors changed towards the organization and building positive relationships, can also help increase your motivation and confidence, ultimately changing your outlook on the organization. On the other hand, I am not advocating that you leave your organization, BUT if your time is up at an organization and you will know when that time is, find an organization or start your own where your purpose can be fulfilled.
Then, let’s take a look at mid-level managers and supervisors.
Mid-level managers and supervisors, I didn’t forget about you. I know many see the title, but they do not realize that you don’t always have the authority or aren’t empowered to make decisions; instead, you are following the direction of the leaders. Some also don’t realize that you are facing the same battles on top of having your direct employees come to you with the tough questions you may be unable to answer. You are internalizing the I don’t know, don’t really care, I just work here mentality. So, what now? Those tips above are for you as well. But also, don’t give up! You have the advantage of seeing the employees’ and leaders’ perspectives and can build trust with your team by advocating for processes, policies, and procedures that directly impact your employees. This task is not always easy, but make sure you come up with solutions on how to make things better and continue working hard on yourself and for your team to alleviate the I just work here mentality in your department.
Now, let’s take a look at leadership.
As I mentioned, some employees, including mid-managers and supervisors, say I don’t know; I just work here because they don’t know or understand why decisions were made. So, what can leaders who make the decisions do to help? Communicate. It is sometimes as simple as that. When leaders don’t effectively communicate why decisions were made, then employees are left with many questions that don’t usually get answered because leaders say, “We already told them why; they should understand, and we’re not going through this again, or I guess we can do another training.” If an employee cannot effectively communicate with internal or external customers about products, services, or organizational changes, leaders may not have communicated effectively. As I mentioned in the article Cultivating a Culture of Clear Expectations and Accountability that Equips and Empowers, communication is vital in cultivating the desired culture; transparent communication between leaders and employees fosters trust, and engagement and productivity increase when employees trust their leaders. It is all about open communication, which, when done correctly, empowers employees to want to do better and even come to you without fear of repercussion. Leaders … if employees do not trust you, you have already lost the battle. Remember one of the questions at the beginning of this article: “Why do they make decisions without understanding what we go through daily?” Well, if leaders cared to understand how their decisions impacted employees, then maybe, just maybe, they would rethink the decisions with the employees and organization in mind.
While communication is number one, in my opinion, providing clear goals and expectations, feedback, welcoming suggestions, coaching employees, and fostering a positive work environment are critical factors in helping employees change the I just work here mentality. Of course, these factors do not include everything leaders can do to make a positive difference, but it is a good starting place.
One last thing for leaders to note … you may never hear an employee say, I just work here because most will not directly tell you, but they will tell other employees who may feel the same way, which causes a ripple effect of disengaged employees. But you will see and feel the adverse side effects of disengagement, possibly even from your typically engaged employees. So, you must be in tune with your employees to notice the ever-so-subtle shifts in attitudes and behaviors that can lead to a fractured culture. And if that employee is a manager or supervisor, act fast to avoid a quicker ripple effect. Most employees thrive when they feel like they matter and their contributions matter, so making a conscious effort to improve makes a difference in attitudes and behaviors and can bring life back to the once fractured culture.