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Life & Work Lessons from a Disengaged Elf

4 min read
Herbie the Misfit Elf

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Published December 18, 2018

Herbie the Misfit Elf

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Picture of Ryan Walcott

Ryan Walcott
a Rhythm Consultant

Herbie the Misfit Elf

Herbie the Elf is a self-proclaimed "misfit." Not happy in his work, he feels like he just "doesn't fit in" with the other elves making toys. His peers are not sympathetic to his plight. They ridicule him for being different and scorn his lack of productivity. His boss is even worse. He yells at him and threatens him regularly for his lack of conformity and performance in the elf culture. It's not surprising, though. There are so many toys to make every year, and the Christmas Day deadline looms large all year long. There just isn't any time or energy for anything to be done outside the norm. So, Herbie decides to leave, become “independent,” and follow his dream on his own to become a dentist.

As I watch this story with my children, I see how it illustrates the teachings of both Gallup and Covey.

Gallup would classify Herbie as a "disengaged" worker. A worker who shows up for a job, does just enough to get by with a mediocre attitude, collects his check, and repeats until he just can’t take it anymore and then leaves. He’s just not happy in his work and can’t wait to get out of it. His purpose and values don’t align with the purpose and values of the company, so he leaves.

Covey would applaud Herbie’s maturity from dependence to independence. He is proactive in following his own dreams and values rather than being driven by his circumstances. He begins with the end in mind by following his life’s mission to become a great dentist. He puts first things first by saying no to the unimportant, no matter how urgent, and saying yes to the important steps to achieve his dream.

What is interesting about the story is that he soon begins to realize how hard it is to make it on his own. The world can be a cold and lonely place. There are dangers in the world... abominable snow monsters lurking to get you. In his lonely journey, he finds a friend named Rudolph who has similar struggles. Two misfits seeking independence and a place to be in the world to achieve their dreams. They decide “to be independent together.” This is what Covey describes as “interdependence.” Interdependence is the highest level of maturity in Covey’s maturity continuum. It is at the interdependent stage of maturity that organizations and teams achieve true greatness. And it is at this place that Herbie, Rudolph, and their gang achieved greatness and saved Christmas. Something they could never do on their own.

So that’s the back story, here are the employee engagement lessons:

  • Celebrate, don’t punish your people when their strengths don’t align with their role. Herbie clearly wasn’t in the right role in the elf organization making toys. It took a disaster and the efforts of Herbie and Rudolph to save Christmas for boss elf and Santa to see that there was a need for the dental skills Herbie had and that his work in that area would benefit all of Christmas town. Instead of threats and punishment, look for another role for your disengaged worker to best use their strengths for the benefit of your department or entire company.
  • Strive for interdependence in your quest to achieve your dreams. You may be reading this and feel like Herbie - disengaged in your work and dreaming of a day you can strike out on your own to achieve your dream in life. Look for someone you can trust and share your dream with them. Ask them to help you and encourage you regularly to keep pursing it. If your dream doesn’t align with your current work role, look for other roles in your team or organization that may align better with your strengths and skills. Don’t settle and continue being unhappy in your work like Herbie was.
  • Enjoy the journey. Life is too short to be unhappy in your work. Make a plan to understand your strengths, goals, and dreams for 2019. Share that plan with people you trust and be “independent together” as you pursue your dreams to achieve greatness in your life and work.  :-)

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Want to learn more about Employee Engagement? Check out these additional resources:

The Shadow Side of Employee Engagement

The 10 Best Employee Engagement KPIs [Video]

5 Minute Rhythm: Improving Employee Engagement [Video]

5 Employee Engagement Blunders to Avoid

How to Fuel Employee Engagement with a Recognition Culture

Are Employee Motivation and Engagement the Same? [Infographic]

10 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement in Your Manufacturing Company [Video]

How to Keep Employees Engaged

Visit the Rhythm Systems Employee Engagement Resource Center