Becky Dunkton’s Bruising Employee Dis-engagement Story

This is the second in my series of real employee engagement case studies

(Click here to read the first one)

Over the last twenty years’ management styles for interaction with the workforce have moved away from carrot and stick, past pay for performance, past employee engagement via annual surveys and action teams, even past regular mini pulse surveys, and have now reached digital employee engagement. More of that later.

We have all heard those famously cynical sayings that “people join companies and leave their bosses”, or that “the best coaching sessions taking place in the company are when the head-hunter calls”!


Employee lifecycle + Boss Quality

In the last decade research has shown that the relationship between the boss and those who work for them is a key one in the workplace. Boss Quality is defined as that essence of the manager as leader of their team, their working relationship with each individual within that team, and the impact they have on their team, and significantly how they are subsequently evaluated by that team.

Whereas line managers often used to delegate the people stuff to their local HR department, they are increasingly now involved as People Managers, owning all the steps on the employee lifecycle from hiring and on-boarding, through performance and development to off-boarding, firing or retiring.


Business Benefits of Highly Engaged Teams

You would expect that enlightened companies would be reflecting on this sea change, the value of engaging one’s workforce and the relationship between boss and their team and acting on this in a positive and proactive way. In 2009, Nita Clarke and David Macleod wrote their seminal paper, Engaged for Success, explaining the bottom line business benefits of highly engaged teams including-reduced turnover, increased productivity and better customer service and product offerings, increased customer spend, repeat business, customer loyalty, and increased revenue and profits.

So you would think this ought to be well practiced and be the norm for all by now.

But  here is yet another real recent example of where that is not the case:


Case Study: High Performing Middle Manager


To protect the innocent, let’s call her Rebecca (Becky) Dunkton.

Becky was a high performing middle manager in a medium sized business who in the previous four years had won team and individual awards and was well regarded by peers and her own team. Then, her company was taken over by one with a coercive, aggressive culture where cost reduction, integration and headcount savings were the key drivers. Her new manager, let’s call her Vice President Carla Friedland, did not rate Becky at all. Given her previous successes, Becky was surprised.

Over time, Becky’s commitment diminished in direct proportion to the amount her new boss bullied her.

Her new boss enjoyed to put people down using their positional power. Psychologists call this “gas lighting” where the boss deliberately changes the rules and set the bar higher than is achievable in order to break the employee, reduce their self -esteem and set them up for failure.

Carla adopted a sea -gull management style over Becky. Often there was no contact and then she would fly  in and drop unrealistic workloads on Becky.

For  example: once Becky was given 12 hours’ notice to produce a regional Talent

Review for all management staff in Europe based on a full analysis of all managers across the region. The only way Becky could achieve this task was to work through the night to assemble all the information and then work with her assistant at a 6.45am breakfast  meeting for help  to fine -tune the slide deck. The task was achieved –just -thanks to the collaboration of Rebecca Dunktons’  team and her resilience to work through the night without sleep.

The next day she relied on caffeine to stay awake and her presentation

was well received by all on the senior management team except Carla who seemed disappointed that Becky had somehow met her impossible task.

Shortly after a year of this type of repetitive bullying, Rebecca chose to leave the company. Following advice from her solicitor she opted for a constructive dismissal case and after a long, costly and emotionally draining battle with the company she had once

loved working for, she won a settlement agreement.

This is not an unique scenario. It happens all the time.

Imagine losing a talented individual and respected middle manager like Rebecca Dunkton from your own organisation.

It has huge replacement costs  1) financially to replace a middle manager with

equivalent  skills, knowledge and experience 2) the disruption caused by the time it takes to on-board a new person  and get them up to speed with the culture and 3) in terms of the dilution of trust of the organisation from those  survivors.

“Survivors” judge the company by the way they “bury their dead.” For those individuals that the company allows to let go, or even where they release them as a result of restructuring, do they do this with due care, integrity and dignity?

Why have I shared this story ? So you can see how easily structural changes, including new reporting relationships, and cultural “gear shifts” can severely hamper employee commitment and team performance.

This situation took several months to reach its conclusions and Becky took over a year to recover her confidence after her departure.

Her career counsellor gave her some good advice to “put Carla in a box  “and move on.

After Becky left the company several peers and direct reports  soon  followed her through the exit door as they valued Rebecca as a person and as a manager and could no longer commit to an organisation or trust one which allowed its senior managers like Carla to do what they did for selfish fun , unchecked.

However, the whole situation could have been nipped in the bud through employees like Becky having a voice. This is where digital engagement can win by exposing the issues as quickly as is possible without causing embarrassment or conflict before the need to repair broken relationships or worse, broken people..

I’ve come across a new type of staff engagement survey that I have already been recommending and that I want to mention here. It’s different from others I’ve seen before. My associate has uploaded two very short videos that show some of the features. Even if you’re cynical, you can still ask for a demo.

LINK engagement-screen- right- now/

I don’t want my clients to only find out that things need to change when they see a valued middle manager leave the organisation due to bullying by a senior executive, and as a domino effect several of the middle -manager’s peers and direct report team members following on by also leaving shortly afterwards.


Simon Brown,  November  2016