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During my career, I have come across engaged employees who have gained a lot due to their commitment to an employer. Some have grown from entry level positions to senior executives while others have benefited financially through long service awards and personal financial development through subsidized loans. In addition, employees have gained from professional development support in the form of study loans or grants. For example, a gentleman I met between 2010 and 2011 – I will refer to him as Mshauri in a subsequent paragraph – had worked for one employer for over 32 years and had benefited both financially and professionally since he had acquired real estate property through subsidized staff loans, received professional training grants and eventually received a long-service award as part of the severance package.

A gentleman I will refer to as Mhasibu has largely worked for one employer since the early 1990s. He has risen through the ranks from supervisory positions to Country Executive Director – the company has subsidiaries in East and Central Africa. Mhasibu is predominantly an introvert and is hardly seen in the media and hardly talks during staff meetings. He is however an efficient executor who ensures that strategic decisions are implemented on time. He was however overlooked for his current position on more than 3 occassions with the company opting for outsiders. During the years he was overlooked, I met him more than four times and he always would share with me all the good things that were going on with his employer. From his staff, he has been more of an evangelist than an employee. After experimenting with outsiders without success, the company looked at Mhasibu and he is doing a stellar job.

Cases similar to Mhasibu abound with some dedicated staff members getting what seems like undeserved promotions and recognition. I recently listened keenly to a training participant who lamented about inequity within his company since some staff members had positions created specifically for them. He was complaining about one senior executive who had been promoted to a General Manager with the new position being created after hiving-off units from other departments to the extent that the new department created confusion within the company’s largely functional structure. Upon further interrogation, I realized that this is a long-serving employee whose loyalty to the company borders on cult-like behavior.

When I met Mshauri, he was at the border of getting into depression after being sent on early retirement. He was in his early 50s and therefore had approximately seven years to retirement. He could not fathom how his boss could heartlessly call him at 4.30PM to inform him that he was being forced into early retirement. The fact that the severance package gave him approximately 4 years’ worth of his monthly salary did not matter. He felt let down or in his words, used and dumped without notice and felt that his employer was showing lack of gratitude to a dedicated employee who had faithfully served for 32 years. He informed me that during his career, he had rejected other job offers due to his love for his employer. I did my best to show him the brighter side of things and I was happy when, six months later, he secured a job with a non-governmental organization where he worked until retirement age.

I never gave much thought to Mshauri’s concerns until I met another gentleman during the COVID 19 pandemic. He had been forced to resign from his employer of over 15 years after auditors exposed minor financial irregularities within the department he was heading. This was a dedicated employee who over his career had seasons where he worked over 15 hours in a day in order to ensure that automation projects were completed on time and without hitches. He had frustrated may fraud attempts and mentored numerous staff. He was also an informal employee engagement champion who had recruited a number of adherents.

Many such cases of engaged employees being pushed out of an organization against their will do exist. One of the saddest examples was that of a senior executive who suffered stroke and was retired one year later on medical grounds. In the words of people privy to the matter, the employer made little effort to support her after falling ill despite the fact that the stroke could have resulted from her punishing and hectic work schedules.  In the example I gave last week about the bank that created a group of “Brand Champions,” one of the pioneer brand champions was forced out of the bank after suspicions of fraud within a department headed during his time as a champion despite the fact that investigations revealed that he was innocent.

We may not rule out employers’ lack of appreciation in the cases where committed employees go unrewarded or are unfairly punished. For example, the gentleman who was the victim of minor audit issues was simply a victim of mischief and toxic organizational politics. However, most people who end up on the wrong side of employee engagement do so due to either bad luck or lack of emotional intelligence.  For example, the gentleman who was forced out due to suspected fraud was purely unfortunate. On the other hand, the senior executive who suffered stroke simply took her commitment too far, failed to delegate probably due to insecurity and ended up overstretching herself. Mshauri on the other hand was always in denial of the fact that his employer had downsized several times from 1997 with the victims mostly being the high earners like him.

In conclusion, though engagement is recommended, it is imperative that employees use logic and remember that no one is indispensable despite their level of engagement. In addition, in spite engagement initiatives, employers still retain the option to terminate employment. Toxic organizational politics are also part and parcel of working life and once in a while, political power and competition will overshadow employee engagement.

Dr. Weru Mwangi is the CEO & Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in training & consultancy in Finance, Governance, Strategy, Risk Management and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@umslgroup.com  

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