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How to Have Employees with Skin in the Game

How do you motivate a workforce today so that employees feel they have “skin in the game?”

That means they identify with the mission of the organization and feel identified with it to the point that they will give their best for their organization to succeed. They feel they succeed as the organization succeeds and like they are failing when the organization is failing.

That kind of employee engagement is fairly rare in organizations today.

Let’s go back to Office Space, the 1999 movie filmed in Austin, and I’d like to ask you to watch the 40-second clip above. It’s fun and horrifying. Peter Gibbons, the main character, tries to dart out the back way from work on a Friday afternoon, only to be caught by his sleazy, sneaky boss, Bill Lumbergh, who brings him the bad news that Peter’s weekend is now destroyed. Peter has to work Saturday and Sunday to “catch up,” for some vague and meaningless reason.

In doing a bit of research, I’m finding out that Office Space in all too many cases is closer a documentary than the dark satire I thought it was.

According to 2015 data from Gallup, only 32 percent of employees in the U.S. are engaged. 51% of employees are unengaged, and 17 percent are actively disengaged.

Walk with Me Through “I Hate My Job” Clips on YouTube

A trip through YouTube is a revelation about employee engagement. Here was my search, and I encourage you to join with me. I searched the term

“I hate my job.”

There are well over 300 YouTube videos in that YouTube category “I hate my job.” Individual topics include, “I hate my job worse than I hate my life.” “I need the money but I’m desperate to leave my job.” “I’ll teach you how to sell t-shirts online so that you can quit your job.” Looking at the number of views of each of these videos–often to 100,00 per clip–you could be led to suspect that three million people are attracted to this subject and identify with it.

Worlds Apart–Working with Employees Who Have Skin in the Game

Our company, Delta, Inc., lives in a world that is totally different from the world of many of the organizations that have large numbers of employees who hate their work. In the world of the 1% in which we work, we see startups beginning from ground zero and older organizations reinventing themselves. We see organizations where team members are joined together to win the game. We work with organizations that must make a transition in a market that has significantly changed, and everyone is on board to make that happen. We work with startups that begin with a handful of people around the table who have gone on to capture the market and grow exponentially.

Why Employees are Disengaged–and Can They Be Motivated to Engage?

I’ve received emails from readers who tell me they are not motivated to engage in organizations–they believe that it would be wrong and unjust to engage. There is a fundamental mistrust of the workplace today.

I have certainly seen it play out in the workplace the way these readers explain it. At the point the organization wants to cut costs, employees will be laid off–the oldest and most expensive first. I’ve seen management thrilled at their clever strategy and believing they’ve taken the high ground for the company.

There is not one drop of remorse for voluntarily ruining lives. They are proud the company is now more profitable. People today have experienced this with parents and grandparents… or themselves. The organization then expects loyal, engaged employees. When organizations come to a prospective employee there is a high level of cynicism and mistrust. How do you motivate people who have been burned or expect to be burned?

Motivating Employees to Feel “Skin in the Game” in the 21st Century Environment

Motivating employees is a different game today. It’s a new employee population.

When we talk about work today, our conversation always revolves around the distinct age cohorts, ethnic diversity, and cultural norms that determine our beliefs about the way we view work–what the meaning and place of work is in our lives.

Older employees and executives are constantly saying, “These young people don’t want to work.” Everyone older said that Gen X didn’t want to work and now that Gen X is older it’s groaning that Millennials just can’t be depended on. What will Millennials say about the generation following them?

In a few decades with each new generation loudly proclaiming that everyone younger than them won’t work, everyone will be living on the sidewalk with no ambition and nothing to do all day. 🙂

Why Do I Work?–Different Motivations from Different People

Some ethnic groups see success in the workplace as an honor to their families and end up becoming engineers and high-level management. Other ethnic groups believe that work should be secondary to taking care of family members. Then there are the lifestylers, as I like to call them. They want to develop the “true me,” and working for someone else’s vision is truly a violation of their sacred duty to “become.”

2lst Century companies try to be value-neutral and connect with each point of view and plug into their motivation.

All of these points of view from age cohorts, ethnic backgrounds, and subcultures–have a valuable perspective about the significance of work as a part of life. The most interesting point is that none of these people would naturally end up in each other’s living room, but they all show up for work in the same organization. The message you give to one group about motivation will thrill that group and really make the other groups quite turned off.

Let’s see if we can speak to a wide range of people and values with a message like the following:

  1. We Know that in Working for Our Organization You’ll Be Giving a Piece of Your Life–We’re Worth it. We have a product or service that serves the needs of people. We have a mission and a plan and we know where we’re going. We have leaders from the c-suite to managers who are leading teams to achieve objectives.
  2. As an Organization, We Promise to Not Abuse You, Use You, and Kick You to the Curb as Some Organizations Do. In the early 90’s here in Austin people used to speak of some companies whose personnel strategy was to “Hire ’em, tire ’em and fire ’em.” We are not a company without a soul–we care about you as a person and a member of our team. Our flexibility will both get the job done and allow you to lead the life you want to lead.
  3. We will Catapult Your Career Forward–If you Stay With Us or If You Go. Not everyone is successful in our organization–it wouldn’t be fair if they were. But if you have the skills and the motivation to be successful here, you’ll never be the same–we’ll catapult your career forward. You’ll have opportunities to learn under the best leaders and you’ll have the opportunity to lead. You will be regularly trained, coached, and learn the skills to work on a great team.
  4. We Serve Your Interests with an Excellent Pay and Benefits Package. We want to maximize your employment with us. We pay competitively. We have performance bonuses, benefits that include health insurance and other benefits. We have a generous severance package. Layoffs can occur through circumstances beyond our control, but we don’t want to leave you without the ability to continue on your life. We offer a bridge to the next step in your life.
  5. You’ll Work in a Community of Really Cool People–Your Ideas and Opinions Will Be Valued. We choose intelligent, open people, whose default mode is to listen, empathize and help. Our employees bond together in and out of work. Outside of work, our employees organize bands, discussion groups, happy hours and social occasions. Our leaders believe that it’s important to learn from employees what we’re doing right and where we can improve. We’ll be listening to you.
  6. You’ll be Working at a Great Job that You’ll Want to Come to Every Day. Many of us have worked in jobs we absolutely hated for bosses we didn’t like or respect. What you do every day will directly impact products and services that will improve life for our clients and consumers. We will explain to you how your job fits into the impact we make and how we produce our products. You will understand how our product makes money and how our organization is doing financially.

Motivating employees to have a sense that they have “Skin in the Game” is not easy now and it won’t get easier in the future. AI will eliminate many traditional jobs in the next twenty years and many jobs, including service jobs, will be eliminated by ‘bots.

Too many people in the workplace still think that they can continue long term with the skills they have–this is certainly not true. If you have only the skills you possess now, ten years from now, you will likely be unemployable. We have to keep pushing our people to prepare for a future that hasn’t yet even been imagined.

Many people cannot be motivated to be motivated. The YouTube “I hate my job” category showcases many people who say that they simply don’t want to work–for anybody doing anything. They want to do what they want to do and wear what they want to wear. I know many people who live in that mode and make it fine. They work when they absolutely have to, and the rest of the time they do what they want to do. And I say–Hurray for them! I find myself jealous in some ways. But I believe that most of us were created to work, learn, serve, and contribute. That’s why I have “skin in the game.”

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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