Dangling promises in front of people can keep them engaged for a while; but without follow-through, that strategy could cost you good workers and your reputation.
Just when you’ve learned all about “ghosting” and how it can negatively impact your workplace, along comes a new concept that might be even more insidious. Move over ghosting: here comes “breadcrumbing.”
What is breadcrumbing? It is generally defined as sharing bits of praise and hints about possible promotions, raises, or projects to keep employees in line without actually giving them anything. In many ways, it’s just an updated term for “intermittent reinforcement,” which psychologists have long considered a way to influence someone’s behavior.
The danger of breadcrumbing is that when these hints of raises, promotions, or projects don’t materialize, employees lose trust in employers and are more likely to look for opportunities elsewhere. In a tight job market where job openings are abundant, good workers could be less patient waiting for promises to be fulfilled.
If you want to keep breadcrumbing from costing you good workers, take these steps:
1. Offer encouragement and rewards that are designed to develop each individual as a person, not just as an impulsive gesture to get someone to stay after he or she has quit or threatened to resign.
2. Don’t offer raises or promotions without discussion. If you do, this can communicate a lack of real interest in the person; and it can diminish the pride or excitement the individual might otherwise feel.
3. A common way to breadcrumb is to give someone busy work that doesn’t have a clear purpose and doesn’t challenge him or her. This may help engage employees at first, but they are likely to get restless and frustrated quickly.
4. If you can’t follow through on a raise, promotion, or new opportunity immediately, give the employee a specific timeframe regarding when the promised incentive will come through; then stay true to your word.
5. If you have to go back on a promise, have an alternate plan. For instance, if budget cuts make a promised raise impossible, offer something else—such as a valued continuing education/career advancement opportunity or extra time off.
Unlike ghosting, breadcrumbing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as the trail of crumbs leads to a tangible reward or bonus. Take a few minutes to talk with your team leaders and make sure they understand the value of following through on promises and not offering rewards they can’t or won’t be able to provide.