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Are you overlooking your secret workforce?

4 min read


You know those things that get done, and you really don’t know how they happen, until they don’t?

Or those employees you see only once or twice a year in performance reviews? When you look at the data, they are clearly getting their jobs done, but otherwise, they seem invisible.

Meet your secret workforce. You can always count on them. They “keep on keeping on” without any particular recognition, attention or prodding.

They get their jobs done, without complaint and without complaints about them. They must be resourceful, because they never ask you for help. They deliver on their objectives and on time, yet don’t speak up much.

When you do notice them you wonder what’s going on, but inevitably a squeaky wheel grabs your attention. It might be the latest budget crunch or that other employee who’s in your ear because she doesn’t understand why she isn’t getting promoted.

You may make assumptions. You may rationalize to yourself, “If they want more, they should speak up.” Understandable. You have a lot on your plate.

And yet, what are you missing because those otherwise low-key reliable performers are just going about their business?

What’s going on with your secret workforce?

There are those who:

  • Don’t want more visibility — they don’t think they should have to work at that.
  • Don’t want more, period. They are happy doing exactly what they are doing.
  • Just want to keep to themselves, for any number of reasons.
  • See the squeaky-wheel-average-performers who over-represent their own performance, and they just don’t want to compete with them.
  • See truly average or under-performers get the same perks, raises, ratings, etc., and they resign themselves to a “why bother?” mode.

Why YOU should bother.

You are taking a risk by allowing your secret workforce to remain in the background, without getting to know them better.

Gallup’s report “The 2013 State of the American Workplace” says about 70% of workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” This is not only sad, but has significant consequences for our economy too.  According to Gallup,

“Organizations with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010-2011 experienced 147% higher EPS [earnings per share] compared with their competition in 2011-2012. In contrast, those with an average of 2.6 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced 2% lower EPS compared with their competition during that same time period.”

Make sure your secret workforce is engaged. Choose a few people. You don’t know them very well, but you know they deliver. Don’t choose the most difficult first.

Check with others who might know them better. Handle this discreetly. Plan your approach. Even role-play. When you do talk with your secret workforce member, say something like:

“I realize I don’t know about you and your work as well as I should and that’s on me. You’ve been doing a good job (in this way, in this area) for a long time, and I realize I need to check in with you about your thinking on (your assignment, your performance, your challenges). Would you be willing to talk to me about that (now or at some point later)?”

Be ready for any number of responses, but bottom line, please start a discussion.  Make sure you don’t let your secret workforce wander over into that “not engaged” category.  Give them the attention they deserve, and contribute to your organization’s success, all at the same time.

Mary C. Schaefer is a coach, trainer and consultant specializing in creating manager-employee interaction breakthroughs and functional and positive work cultures. Connect with Schaefer via her EmpoweredManagers blog or on Twitter @MarySchaefer.