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5 Signs that Employees are in Survival Mode

WorkplaceToday’s workplace is a reflection of the times: uncertain and unstable. As employees navigate this short-term, fast-paced, tension-filled terrain, they develop an attitude that creates an uneasy environment:  survival mode.  

The workplace used to be focused on the planning and execution of short, mid-range and long-term growth objectives. It was a place where careers were born and legacies were created. A place that encouraged teamwork, unity and advancement, fueled by collaboration, partnerships and client relationships. Today, long-term business goals have been eclipsed by short-term personal goals: survive the unknown long enough to stay in the game. For employees this means adapting to a role where time management is unmanageable and where everything is a priority.

As you think about the dynamics in your workplace, watch out for these five signs that your employees are in survival mode:

1)  Relationship Building Amongst Peers is Fading

In the past, having lunch with the colleagues you worked most closely with was normal. But now, you’re lucky if anyone in the office can spend time with you during work hours. Because employees in survival mode focus specifically on people who can salvage their jobs and careers, socializing is infrequent and relationships are fading.

2)  Meetings Are Frequently Cancelled or Rescheduled

Today’s survival-mode environment has made it increasingly difficult to get a team of people in a room, because they each have a different set of urgent issues to deal with. Canceling and rescheduling meetings has become more common than ever because people want to make sure that the right people are in the room so they can sell themselves, rather than advancing the organization’s initiatives.

3)  People Don’t Trust One Another

Because everyone has their own survival agenda, employees have grown to distrust one another. Since people don’t know their colleagues’ hidden agendas, employees are wary of engaging with those who may violate their trust to advance themselves. One example might be two people who were once close colleagues competing for the same promotion within their department.

4)  Turnover is High and Employer Loyalty is Low

People become disenfranchised when survival mode takes over. Think about it: When you go to work and people are only interested in themselves, what’s the incentive to give more. For example, when your manager is focused more on his or her own advancement than the betterment of the team, it sends the wrong message. Over time you realize that you are not valued and thus you begin to lose that fire in the belly and you lack the desire to give it your all. You become a victim of someone else’s survival strategy and thus begin to lose loyalty for your organization. Ultimately, you leave the organization.

This year I have seen this scenario play out more often than not. In fact, people work more on their resumes than their own jobs.

5)  Self-Promotion is Out of Control

Self-promotion is the ultimate sign of survival mode. When employees get desperate they begin to sell themselves in ways that become irresponsible and that can harm the organization and client relationships. Survival mode creates a fierce dog-eat-dog mentality. Even the least likely employee can turn on a dime. Keep your eyes wide open, so that you don’t get blindsided by the lack of organizational loyalty the survival mode can create.

They don’t teach survival mode in school. None of us started our careers hoping to work only for our own short-term goals. But survival mode takes over in more and more workplaces each day, as uncertainty looms and the future becomes unclear.   



The Case of the Missing Latina Leaders

LeadersThere is a well-documented and dramatic absence of Latinas in leadership positions in many organizations in this country.  In my experience as a researcher looking to identify Latinas in upper management for my research and as an organization consultant focusing on building inclusive organizations, I have consistently noted that the higher one looks, the fewer Latinas one sees at the decision-making table.  While there continue to be more examples of Latinas assuming prominent positions in many industries, the numbers are far from adequate when one considers our representation in the population. 

 The question becomes how one explains this absence.  Of course, there are those who are quick to attribute this dynamic to the lack of leadership competencies or experience among this group.  Latinas are seen as lacking the ambition or competitive drive to move into senior positions.  Instead their consideration for the well-being of others and concern for the collective needs of the whole are seen as deficits which make them unfit to lead.  The problem, however, lies not with Latinas themselves but rather with how leadership is defined and enacted in most organizations which is based on a stereotypical model of a strong, competitive, individualistic, rational, task-focused male leadership style.

Latina-leaderLeadership theories have typically focused on what was called “The Great Man” approach, which described the ideal leader as a hero of superhuman ability to inspire and lead his followers into battle.  In this model leaders were born with traits like charisma and dynamism.  You either had it or you didn’t.  Other theories framed leaders as demanding task masters who got the work done by holding people to high standards and providing incentives to workers to perform in a fairly transactional manner – a days pay in exchange for a days work.

Though today’s workforce has changed dramatically from the 1950’s and 60’s when these theories were developed, many organizations have not significantly changed their ideas about what leadership is or needs to be.  Today’s younger, more diverse workers are looking for new models of leadership that allows for power to be shared and provides them with opportunities to have influence on the context in which they work.  The skills needed to work well and manage these new workers are more related to collaboration and team engagement than the top-down styles of the past.

Now is the time where Latina leaders are most needed yet their talents to lead are under-recognized and not fully leveraged to meet the needs of these changing organizations.  Organizations and their leaders need to take off their blinders and appreciate the unique style of leadership Latinas exemplify and provide developmental opportunities so these qualities can flourish and mature.  While Latinas interact and lead in non-traditional ways, the results they are able to produce speaks volumes about their abilities.

Co-workerPart of the equation involves Latinas themselves recognizing and amplifying their leadership skills.  They sometimes take for granted that their emphasis on the well-being and productivity of the work group or team are important.  Their upbringing taught them that success in any endeavor is related to attending to the needs of a diverse group in order for each person to contribute to the overall task.  Their ability to build long-lasting relationships and networks allows them to create cohesive teams and build trust among diverse co-workers.

When the mystery of the missing Latina leader is solved, organizations will see that the leadership ability they bring are exactly what is needed to inspire today’s workers – and these powerful “mujeres” have been hidden in plain sight for far too long.  Perhaps 2012 will be the year when these patterns are recognized as unworkable and Latina leaders will gain the exposure and prominence they deserve!

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