The One Unacceptable Uncertainty

Uncertain Employee“There is nothing certain, but the uncertain.” – Proverb

The term VUCA has gone from a trendy corporate buzz word to a common expression of the unique challenges presented in the workplace today. VUCA is an acronym that stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. In other words, “Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” The term originated in the military sector and has been adapted to organizations faced with newly complex conditions including rapid global expansions, technological disruptions, shifting demographics, etc.

In a VUCA world, the leaders who get it right aren’t the ones who are the most decisive or analytical. It’s the ones who adapt to the ever-changing conditions and can weather the storm. A strategic leader in a VUCA world assesses what she knows, acknowledges what she doesn’t know, assigns measurements and risks to those unknowns, and makes decisions backed by checkpoints and back-up plans. She accepts the fact that the unknowns may outweigh the knowns, and the situation may change entirely in 24 hours. Success in a VUCA environment is really about acceptance, calculated risks, and resilience.

But there is one form of organizational Uncertainty that is truly detrimental to any workplace. This particular form of uncertainty is completely avoidable, creates long-lasting irreparable effects on a team, and is inexcusable.

Team members should never be uncertain about their value to the organization.

  • A team member who receives no praise for accomplishments will become uncertain of their value.
  • A team member who is excluded from conversations that are within their focus area will become uncertain of their value.
  • A team member who has little autonomy will become uncertain of their value.
  • A team member who feels left out of the loop will also become uncertain of their value.

No one likes to feel underappreciated, and yet half of all employees report feeling undervalued at work. Employees who feel disregarded, overlooked, and unappreciated create cavities in the organization. The high performing/high potential employees leave first. High performers won’t tolerate the empty feeling of not adding value to the organization. They are quick to identify that their career has gone stagnant and will network their way into an organization that identifies and capitalizes on their talents. They take their institutional knowledge with them and your competitors take advantage of your lack of appreciation.

Losing a High Performer or High Potential is bad. Keeping a disengaged satisfactory employee is worse. These employees used to do their jobs well. They were consistent, reliable, and loyal. But eventually they felt like no one cared about them anymore. No one valued (or expressed value in) their contributions. Now they have given up asking for appreciation or acknowledgement and they just earn a paycheck. They become negative and cynical, but not motivated enough to leave. They quit, but stayed.

Every aspect of this employee engagement issue is completely avoidable. To be clear, value is not exclusively about compensation. It’s not about bonuses and merit increases (although those help the cause). It really boils down to leadership. It costs a leader nothing to say “thank you for putting in so many extra hours on this project.” It takes no effort at all to publicly acknowledge a successful product launch. It should never be difficult to give someone the space and autonomy they need to do their job. And communicating/reinforcing the employee’s future in the organization shouldn’t be reserved solely for the annual performance review.

Of all the things a leader can’t control in the workplace, showing appreciation and communicating value isn’t one of them.