How many times, especially these days, at a networking function have you asked someone what they do and gotten the reply, “I’m not working, I’m looking for my next opportunity.”
OK, a lot of people are looking, but that doesn’t answer the question.
Ask again and you might get the same answer, but if your face still has a look of inquiry written on it you’ll get a second answer, “I’m a [whatever].”
It’s sad when people choose to define themselves based upon how they earn a living; worse when, as in the example above, employment becomes the career validation without which the career ceases to exist.
Bad as those are, the worst is when people take another step and subconsciously merge their identity with that of their company—I call it ego-merge.
I coined the term in the eighties to describe a state of mind that is not only unhealthy for individuals, but also damaging to the companies for which they work.
Ego-merge is what happens when “me” and “my company” meld together in the mind of the employee, whether worker or manager.
It’s most obvious in tough times and most noticeable in conversation when people use “because” instead of “and” when talking about accomplishments, thereby crediting the company or manager for their skills.
“I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.”
At first glance ego-merge might actually seem to be a positive for companies—but it’s not.
When employees’ egos merge with their company’s, they often blame themselves for the company’s problems even when they have little power and may not have any line responsibility.
No matter how great their work environment, feeling responsible is a major productivity sapper when times are tough—employees with ego-merge have a difficult time believing that
- it’s not their fault;
- their manager doesn’t blame them;
- they are good enough to help turn the company around,
because in their minds their skills and talent are good because of their manager/company.
Ego-merge affects the best companies/managers, where people are very involved, have high esprit de corps and are passionate about their mission and success.
But it also happens with more Machiavellian managers who intentionally foster the attitude within their organization as a retention tool.
Ego-merge does, in fact, encourage people to stay, but it also cripples them, ruins their creativity, saps their initiative and reduces their long term value to the company.
It’s every company/manager’s responsibility to help their people grow and become stronger, not to subtly cripple them in the hopes that they won’t leave.
In fact, it’s in the best interest of both the manager and the company to become people-builders.
Join me tomorrow for a look at how to recognize and avoid ego-merge, as well as why people-building pays off.
Flickr image credit: Seth Anderson