A wake-up call for leaders?

No matter on which side of the political fence you reside, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump sent resounding messages about what people think, want, and are willing to do for change. In a democracy, people use their vote to have their voices and opinions heard. In both these elections, voters sent a strong message of dissatisfaction with the status quo. They demanded change and got it, and it should be a wake-up call for leaders.

In the workplace, employees send messages in more implicit ways. Since employees (usually) do not have the option to vote in/out their leaders, they instead show their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their actions and effort levels.

Vote with Their Actions

Brexit and the U.S. election results are an early wake-up call for leaders to not get caught with their heads in the sand. If you’re a business leader or manager, are you listening to and hearing all your constituents (i.e., employees)? Are you proactively finding out their satisfaction level? If you are not, don’t be surprised when unhappy employees “vote” with their actions. Actions such as holding back effort, not showing up to work, or filing complaints.  And of course, the ultimate “voting with their feet” by leaving your company for better conditions. Consequently, you know these actions hurt your business. In addition to being distractions, they increase costs, and also decrease your ability to deliver your products and services well.

CEOs, leaders and HR professionals are anxious about employee engagement levels. Yet most agree that highly engaged employees add immense value to their companies. Conversely, unhappy, disengaged employees may disrupt business and hurt the bottom line.

Watch for Hygiene Factors

Companies try to motivate employees with privileges, perks, and parties. They must heed the wake-up call for leaders and be careful not to overlook fundamental “hygiene factors”.  Hygiene factors are a component of the Fredrick Helzberg’s two-factor theory which states that there are certain aspects in the workplace that cause satisfaction. While a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction. Helzberg’s theory asserts that employee dissatisfaction arises from unfriendly policies, poor supervision, and unfair wages. Other hygiene factors include lack of job security, work conditions, and status.

Sound familiar? Clear parallels exist between the movement and electorate that voted for Brexit and Trump and the potential of similar unrest within a group of dissatisfied employees.

Post-Election Wake-Up Call

Business leaders and HR professionals, this is your post-election wake-up call. Take note of the potential risk if you devote all focus to employees who are already on your side. Another hazard is not to investigate if hygiene factors or dissatisfaction undercurrent exist in your workplace. Be vigilant. Most importantly, take the time to look at your entire workforce, get to know your employees, listen to them, and treat them well.  If you decide to look the other way, you could be caught off guard by an underlying swell of employees who decide to “vote” against their current situation.

Connie Wedel is a US-based global HR executive, leadership coach, equal rights advocate, global citizen, writer, speaker, and mom. Her background includes working with businesses, leadership, and employees over 6 continents across various industries.

Connie holds an Executive Masters in HR Management from Cornell University. She maintains SPHR, GPHR, SHRM-SCP certifications and teaches Organizational Behavior at the University of California, San Diego., She is periodic contributor Business Insider, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Ellevate Network.