Employee dissatisfaction: An accident waiting to happen?

"Employee satisfaction is an elusive goal for many organizations," writes Susan Heathfield on About.com. "I believe that is because employee satisfaction shouldn’t be a goal at all. Employee satisfaction is an outcome, an outcome of business practices that empower and enable employees to contribute to the success of the business."

I couldn't agree more with Susan.  Her perspective that satisfaction is outcome, not a goal, is an astute observation and powerful statement. And if employees don't treat co-workers and customers with respect, dignity, and good customer service why would you keep them? 

Unfortunately as I read the rest of the article, my agreement turned to horror. Susan concluded her article with the following:

"Employee satisfaction is largely a choice employees make. I’ll try to stay out of their way while they create it."

I've never disagreed with a conclusion more than this one. Employees can't create employee satisfaction when the environment doesn't encourage or at least stimulate it. Employee engagement is not solely an employee choice – it's at least a two way street.

Let me share an employee's experience that epitmizes why one employee with a stellar work history cannot possibly be satisfied in her workplace.  Yes, it's her choice to be satisfied or not with the resources and support she receives but she'd have to lower the bar so low that any display of respect or dignity for co-workers and patients would have to be disregarded.

This soon-to-be former employee of a health practice recently confided in me her experiences in what I'd call the poster child for businesses that represent the lowest-of-low satisfying places to work.

In her six months of employment, she has been the victim of dysfunctional and unproductive administrative processes, bickering doctors, defiant co-workers, an inept office manager, and sick and unhappy patients. In her short tenure, every employee hired after her start date has either quit or been fired.

Just this week she was reprimanded by a co-worker for overstepping her authority. She received a call from a patient who received the wrong dosage of sample medicine. She confirmed with the nurse that indeed it was the wrong medicine and called the patient back. Her co-worker told her "it was none of her business" to intervene. "The samples were free and it isn't our [the practice] responsibility. Tell him to throw them out and fill the prescription with his insurance."  Not only does her attitude represent dis-service but makes her complicit in exposing the patient to a great risk.

This is the same employee who sits 3 feet away and bad-mouths patients loud enough that everyone in the reception room can hear.  To put things into even better perspective about how this business operates, she was recently promoted to supervisor.

This total disregard for accepting responsibility and accountability goes right to the top of this organization.  The docs blame insurance companies for their 'plight.'  The office manager blames the docs and the lack of employee work ethic.  The staff blames patients and each other.  When employee dissatisfaction evolves into employee disengagement, outcomes are compromised. The business is an accident waiting to happen.

To be fair to Susan, she did not completely ignore the role of the employer in creating employee satisfaction:

It’s not my job to make up for an employee’s lifetime of blah experiences, bad parenting, poor outcomes, half-baked contributions, failure to take responsibility, and unhappy life choices. All I can do is create a respectful work environment in which employees know what is expected and are enabled to do their jobs – successfully and effectively.

Yes, it is the employee's choice to be satisfied but only if the employer assumes the responsibility to create an environment that makes employee and customer satisfaction a core value, not something you do when convenient.

What do you think? Heathfield clearly states her point of view:

"Do you care about the satisfaction of employees who aren’t performing at their utmost for their customers, their coworkers, and the business? I don’t. In fact, I want them gone."

What role does the employer have in creating an environment that ensures satisfaction among customers and employees.  What responsibility does the employee have?  Let us know.

Read more: Disengaged Workers Aren’t Born That Way


Ira S Wolfe


  1. Ira S Wolfe May 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm -

    I agree an employer can only do so much and that’s it is an internal choice to be satisfied or not. But then it’s the employer’s responsibility to do a better job of selecting candidates who can be satisifed and to remove those who consistently unhappy. I’m also concerned that many employers will read Susan’s column and suggest they are doing enough when in fact, the environment is not as healthy as they think.
    Engagement is a two-way street.

  2. Amy May 7, 2009 at 4:36 pm -

    I think you have completely missed the point of Susan Heathfield’s article. Susan says,
    “I’d like to do a better job of providing a framework of expectations and goals that sets employees free to contribute because they know where they are supposed to be going and what they are supposed to be doing. And, I’d like to get better at providing regular feedback and only rewarding and recognizing real contribution.”
    Your example is the complete opposite of what Susan is saying. They are rewarding and recognizing the wrong behaviors. This company is the complete opposite of how Susan believes an employer should behave.
    An employer can only do so much. We can create the right environment but we cannot make our employees be satisfied or happy. That is an internal choice. It’s like the age old saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.