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  • Writer's pictureBrian Patterson

Absenteeism, Turnover, and Counter- Productivity

In an effort to show ourselves as meaningful and productive, leaders often consider workers as just parts of the machine. In today’s workplace, a new approach to leadership is more effective. Workers have to be able to solve complex problems.  We cannot be as productive as possible with the attitude that they should just do their job. In an environment of fear, complex problem- solving is unlikely, physically and mentally.

Three behaviors that affect the workplace adversely are absenteeism, turnover, and counter- productive behaviors. These damage the morale of the environment and the relationship between leadership and staff. Workers are often blamed, or generations, but I propose that the leader and his or her human skills are more responsible.

Dr. William Glasser describes the Basic Needs of human beings as hard- wired into us genetically at birth (1998).  He did not describe these needs as existing in the same relationship for everyone as did Maslow. Glasser’s 5 needs are survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. These are present in everyone at unique and different levels. For a worker to be present consistently, continue as an employee, and work productively, the manager must create an environment and relationship in which the employee can adequately meet these needs.

Choice Theory is exemplified in the relational aspects of Southwest Airlines where employees happily join together in pursuit of a common cause and as W. Edwards Deming said, “high quality work is dependent on driving out fear that prevents people from getting along well with each other” (Glasser, 1998. P. 10). Choice theory emphasizes that motivation comes from within.

The Basic Needs can be satisfied (simplistically) in this way:

  1. Survival- workers are paid adequately and they sense that the organization is protecting them from harm through regular fire drills and active shooter training. Have an adequate sick leave policy and health insurance address this need. And, because we all have these needs in different intensities and satisfy them differently, these things are more important to some workers than others.

  2. Love and Belonging (caring for others and being cared for)- teams regularly meet together and managers ensure that everyone knows they are appreciated and part of the group. Again, this is more important to some than others. For workers surveyed at the Department of Economic Security, 60% say this is most important.

  3. Power or competency- Workers need to have coaching and vicarious learning to increase their skills and sense of self- efficacy. This need can be misused as power over or productively as power with and power within.

  4. Freedom- Every worker needs some degree of autonomy in deciding how they will do the work. If there is a Standard Work process, they need to know that they have the freedom to express ideas for improvement. At times, having liberty to choose the team on which they work is important.

  5. Fun- the genetic reward of learning (Glasser, 1998). WHne there is a learning community within the workplace, individuals learn from each other and as they master a task, there is fun. Also, the camaraderie of birthday and anniversary celebrations contributes to this need.

As W. Edwards Deming proposed, workers work in the system and managers work on the system to create a more harmonious environment and more quality production for employees (Glasser, 1994). The manager has the responsibility of creating the quality environment where everyone is engaged in a shared vision. In these kinds of circumstances, employees show up for work, stay for a long time, and give effort to keep the environment positive.


Glasser, W. (1998). Choice theory: a new psychology of personal freedom. New York. HarperPerennial.

Glasser, W. (1994). The control theory manager. New York. HarperCollins.

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