How Resentment Is Intoxicating Your Company Culture
It’s not the quiet quitters you need to be worried about; it’s the restless resenters. These people stay in work even though they hate the work they are doing and despise management. It’s every businesses worst nightmare.
Resentment doesn’t just cause slight disengagement, or a drop in productivity; it can go off the scale, with people actively sabotaging your company and manipulating others. Before you know it, you can have culture pains that begin to severely disrupt your business.
If you’re familiar with this type of person in your company, you’re probably nodding your head profusely and internally cringing at all the moments you can visualise in your head where they’ve actively caused trouble.
So how did they end up this way? How can you avoid it all together? And how can you stop it once resentment is present. Wherever you are on the scale, take notes on the advice below and don’t let resentment fester to a point of no return. It’s a long path back.
Why are they this way?
It may come as a surprise, but people don’t want to be resentful, and they certainly don’t start out this way. Resentment is unfortunately something which can be generated from one bad experience, or come from a build up over many years of poor culture problems.
You may already have resentful people in your company culture, in which case you need to determine what caused them to be this way. You can’t solve anything without knowing the cause.
And some of you may not yet be there. In which case, it’s important to identify which factors could cause resentment later on down the line so you can avoid these common culture pitfalls.
This list provides some ideas of where the resentment may stem from. This list isn’t exhaustive. After all, there may simply be a misunderstanding that is completely unique to your own business. But these examples should give you a nudge in the right direction.
Conflict may appear in many different forms. It could be a conflict between colleagues, or conflict over ways of working. For example, one recent study by Stanford University highlighted the increase of clashes between managers and employees over working from home. The study predicts that conflict around hybrid work policies will increase over the coming years.
Honestly, from my experience, the conflict around ‘where’ we work has been existing long before covid. How can we forget the amount of built up resentment a denial for flexible working can cause back in the day when you had to request the right.
Unresolved conflict festers, and leads to resentment.
This doesn’t mean to say we have to make everyone happy. There will be times where the decisions we have to make as a business won’t make everyone happy. But as a leader in a business it is important to consistently build trust and psychological safety.
What’s essential isn’t easing pains, but listening to people’s pains. Much of what leaders do is ignore the pain and difficulties of others. We avoid having these difficult conversations because they’re going to make us uncomfortable. When in reality, these uncomfortable conversations are what we need the most.
Nothing infuriates and fans the flames of resentment more than people ignoring the situation.
People who experience burnout due to their work can become resentful of where they work. Especially if their workplace is a culture where it’s expected to sacrifice health and wellbeing.
Once workplace inflicted burnout occurs, it can be difficult for people to want to support the company in any way. After all, they’ve lost their health due to the unrealistic demands of work. Do you really expect them to be firm on deadlines now?
Burnout isn’t just a work problem. When burnout occurs it impacts your entire life. Your relationships, your eating habits, your sleep, your sex drive, your mental health, your physical health. In some cases, people can end up having life long health conditions due to the intense amount of stress caused by burnout.
It’s fair to say that if a workplace has caused a burnout experience, it’s understandable to expect an individual to feel resentful.
From my experience as a culture coach, broken promises are the most common cause of resentment in the workplace. In these cases, people have been told repeatedly about promotions, training or opportunities that simply never manifest.
The constant up and down of hopes and expectations leads people to no longer believe a word the company says. Instead, they even become distrustful, believing that anything the company says is hot air. More promises that never happen.
In many instances these companies have the best intentions. They really want to promote people, or create learning and development journeys. But time gets in the way, and other things become a priority.
Eventually resentment sets in, and people even warn others not to get their hopes up. The ripple effect of broken promises begins.
Some of those resentful folks were once the nice guy in the office. The guy who picks up the slack when others have quit, or gone home ill. But then suddenly they became everybody’s workhorse. Or in some extreme cases, they unintentionally become the workhorse due to poor managers.
Getting landed on a project or a task that wasn’t yours to begin with, or that you have no interest in, is a recipe towards resentment.
Unwelcome work treats people like machines, not human beings. And so, of course people are going to start feeling resentful.
What’s worse, is when people question why they’re being dumped with someone else’s project or work, the common response is a guilt trip – “We’re all overworking!” , or the classic emotional blackmail of – “showing your commitment to the company will work in your favour.” Urgh!
Nothing ever changes.
As Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Many resentful people work in these insane company cultures where repeatedly the same thing happens over and over again, despite people telling them otherwise.
There are only so many times you can repeat yourself about what’s not working, before you decide to give up completely and just get by, so people get resentful. Why? Because they’re so frustrated at feeling the same pains, tired of being ignored, and fed-up of change never happening.
Most of the time change is landed on the desk of senior leaders who are already overworked, and don’t see these ideas or suggestions as a priority. It wasn’t ‘THEIR’ idea and they don’t feel the pain of what the team is going through, so ultimately it goes to the bottom of the list. And of course, people are never entrusted to try something new themselves – that’s for managers to determine. So the endless silos, bureaucracy and never-ending tensions build up to resentment.
Resentment is a fickle emotion, which means you can’t just do one thing and it simply fades away. If you’re keen to truly dissolve resentment, you have to follow a process.
For those who have already fallen hard out of love with work, it won’t take one quick fix to resolve their scepticism. These folks will need time and space, and for real change to actually happen.
Whether you’re deep in a toxic landmine of resentment in your company culture, or have recognised mild elements of it creeping up; here’s steps you can take to try and bring the working climate back to one that feels like it can move forward.
You have to acknowledge that people are feeling resentful.
It does take a level of acceptance. As a company you have to accept some responsibility for the role you’ve played in manifesting this into your culture.
As a leader, you have to be cautious of your own emotions. You can’t shift resentment until you feel like you are in a fair, and level-headed mind. For some leaders, feeling a level of resentment in the culture can lead towards emotions of anger and frustration – you can begin to feel that people are ‘ungrateful’.
If you try to approach the resentment from this space you will only make things worse.
Before you can move forward, you have to shift your mindset and emotions. Work through what’s coming up for you.
Understand where it’s come from.
Make a conscious effort to understand where this resentment may have come from. At this point you will be making assumptions, after all, you haven’t spoken to anyone yet, so at this stage it’s more about reflection than judgement.
The reflection gives you an opportunity to identify if this is a larger cultural problem that’s happening in your company, or something that has happened as a result of a situation.
If you’ve become aware that this is company culture issue, then it’s vital that you recognise this as a vital area to work on within your business.
Call it out and open space.
This next part isn’t for the faint of heart, or for those leaders who have a tendency to blame and shame. So if you feel that it wouldn’t come across in the right way, it may be beneficial for everyone involved if you have a third-party facilitator to support you.
Offer your team members a safe space to vent. This session is about bringing to light the things that are building resentment in the climate. As the old saying goes, we need to bring out the elephant in the room.
During this session, the key thing you do as a leader is just listen. And I mean really listen. Put on your active listening ears, and hear it all. As much as you will want to ‘fix’ the problem and offer solutions, your role during this session is just to listen. Listen to the words they’re using, see the emotions in their expressions, get them to go deeper about why this has caused so much pain. Only then will you understand.
Inviting dialogue such as this won’t feel easy. It will feel hard, and uncomfortable. But the gems of resolution are in these moments.
Until we’ve got all the negative emotions out of the way, and people feel like they’ve been heard, can we move on effectively.
Before you run off and believe that YOU are now responsible for everyone’s problems – take a step back. Yes, you must take action, but action in a way that brings your team together to be the co-solvers of these problems.
Once you’ve identified what’s happened to create the resentment, it’s now time to create a solution with your team. What needs to happen to move this forward?
These steps are just one example of shifting resentment in your company culture. Although not resentment specific, “Moose Heads on the Table” by Karin Tenelius and Lisa Gill, is a resourceful book I highly recommend which includes some fantastic examples of how to move the working climate of a team to a more productive mindset. As Lisa Gill says,”Conflicts are not only inevitable, they’re vital. The aim is conflict transformation, not resolution.”
Resentment bleeds away vital organisational energy which could be better spent in other areas. Take action on it now before it becomes a thorn in your side.