Are “Loud Laborers” Killing Your Workplace Morale?

Self-promoting employees who emphasize what they are doing or planning to do rather than doing the work itself can create an imbalanced environment and demotivate team members.

When an employee talks about what they do more than doing it, it’s a problem. That problem extends beyond their own work performance to the culture of the workplace.

These are employees who emphasize making their work known rather than “focusing on the work itself,” leadership coach and workplace expert Nicole Price told Goh Chiew Tong in a post on CNBC’s Make It site. “They use various methods of self-promotion, talking more about what they are doing or plan to do rather than getting on with their tasks.”

I used to work under one of these “loud laborers,” so I know first-hand the adverse impact it can have on morale. The loud laborer gets positive attention from the boss and executives, while the quiet laborers—who are doing much more work—are comparatively unacknowledged.

“Loud laborers may create a work environment where visibility and self-promotion are valued more than actual results, which could demotivate employees who are quieter or prefer to let their work speak for itself,” Price told Tong, noting that the “constant self-promotion may create an atmosphere of competition rather than collaboration…It may lead to an imbalance in perceived effort and recognition, which could impact team morale negatively.”

Train Managers

One way to subvert loud laborers is to train managers to be savvy about work performance. You don’t want managers who are easily snookered by what my father used to refer to as “blowhards.” My father, like me, was a quiet laborer. He worked hard and accomplished a lot, but preferred to simply do the work than to broadcast blow-by-blow what he was doing.

The challenge is coming up with strategies managers can use to separate the true and false laborers.

When a new project manager came into our office, by necessity she exposed the low level of work my former boss had accomplished. Use of project managers, or even designating a manager for each project, is a way to track who’s doing what—and exactly what has been accomplished. They can create a spreadsheet or other document that lists what each person has been assigned, when the assignment is due and whether the assignment was completed. It also can note the quality of the work, whether it needed to be sent back to the employee for revisions, whether those revisions were ever made, and whether the in-house colleague or outside client the work was for was happy with it.

The boss then has an easy and quick snapshot of what’s happening in their department, and whether one “laborer” is primarily a self-promoter.

Growth Opportunity

Designating a manager for each project is not only an effective, non-offensive way to track work progress and completion, it also gives employees a growth opportunity. The key, though, is not to give the job of project manager to a “noisy laborer.” If the manager can’t even make it far enough to designate a worthy employee as project manager, then it may be time to consider that you need a new manager.

Pros and Cons of an Electronic Basecamp

Another approach to track work output is an electronic “basecamp.” In this approach, employees are responsible for sharing on a daily or weekly basis what they are working on and where they stand with that work. The problem is that this approach relies on self-monitoring and it also adds tasks to an employee’s day.

It’s also tedious and difficult sometimes to give an accurate assessment about your own work output. You may think you’re further along on an assignment than you really are, or that the quality of the assignment was higher than it was. A project you mark as “completed,” may turn out to be not really completed because the internal or external client was not happy with it and it needed to be sent back for additional work.

It also can be culturally damaging to require employees to account for how they are spending their time. It can feel like the company or leaders don’t trust them, or like they are checking in with a parole officer. The electronic basecamp didn’t go over well at the company where I experienced it.

Have you noticed any noisy laborers in your workplace? How do you ensure your managers are not misled by employees who like to talk about accomplishments more than achieving them?