The popular as well as business media jumped on a recent story about a man in the US that unbeknownst to his employer outsourced his job to a company in China. Apparently, the senior level programmer worked for a US company, located a firm in China with the requisite skills to perform his day-to-day work, hired their staff for approximately 20 percent of his salary, and gave them access to his VPN connection to make it appear he was working normal hours. Most commentators that wrote about the man alternated between horror over the duplicity and smug admiration with his innovative spirit. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9806921/Computer-programmer-outsourced-job-to-China.html)
Although this incident received national attention, most of us have heard stories of people finding innovative ways to make more money or get out of work at their current job. A few recent examples that clients relayed to me include:
- a manager that reported to work each morning for a few minutes before leaving to attend important, off-site “meetings” that turned out to be at his electronics business he ran during business hours;
- a highly paid project manager who overestimated the time that projects would take so he could bring in his own laptop to do freelance programming work; and
- an office where the staff delayed internal work requests so that they could spend their days developing online characters for gamers that aspiring players would rather buy than develop on their own.
As ever leader knows, we all struggle with balancing doing the easy thing or our own thing with doing the right thing.
Although we could focus on the dishonesty and duplicity of each of these examples, the point that seems to be missing from our discussions of people finding creative ways to get out of work or make more money relates to engagement. Put simply, if we fail to engage our employees, something else will.
As human beings, we seek to have connections and possess a sense of belonging. This is one of the reasons we take pride in being from a specific community, supporting a specific sports team, voting for a specific political party or candidate, subscribing to a specific set of religious belief, and identifying with a specific profession. We develop a sense of attachment or linkage that solidifies who we are. As a result, our identity depends on defining ourselves with mental images of what we are “connected with” and the nature of that interaction. Most of us spend around half of our waking time working, so the interaction we have at work plays a comparatively large role in defining who we are. Moreover, the impact of negative interaction is much greater due to the regular nature of the interaction. The combination of the need to define ourselves and the degree of interaction is one of the primary reasons why a good supervisor is critical to employee satisfaction, happiness, and engagement. A good supervisor understands an individual’s need to define him or herself, monitors the status of that definition through interaction, and attempts to keep that image where it needs to be to produce the best results possible.
In distant leadership, we need to develop new skills and tools to complete these essential duties. The need for engagement does not vanish as offices decentralize. If anything, as leaders we have to work harder to ensure engagement. In our next post, we will discuss some innovative ways to do that.