PayPal President David Marcus recently issued a strong memo to PayPal employees who refused to download the PayPal app or could not use it because they forgot their password:

“If you are one of the folks who refused to install the PayPal app or if you can’t remember your PayPal password, do yourself a favor, go find something that will connect with your heart and mind elsewhere.”

Taken out of context, the message seems harsh.  A tweet accused Marcus of “management by intimidation.” But was he really out of line? After all, aren’t employees who refuse to support their company’s own product sending an equally negative message to their employer? At best, that behavior is careless. At worst, it’s a downright passive aggressive to bite to the hand.

If you read the memo in its entirety, you’ll see that prior to issuing his harsh ultimatum, Marcus called on loyal PayPal employees to step up and set a positive example:

“I know there are people on our campus in San Jose who are here to make a difference every day.  So I’m turning to you passionate PayPals who are here for purpose more than paycheck. We need your help. I need you to make it clear to colleagues, who display these types of behaviors that we won’t tolerate these anymore.”

PayPal is a mature company, founded way back in 1998, even before the heady dotcom years. If life in San Jose has been at all like life here in West Michigan through the Great Recession, I suspect that many employees have been asked to do more with less. For them, the startup luster faded long ago. Some have likely stayed on beyond their optimal Freshness Date, either for personal reasons, or because fear of change outweighed motivation to look elsewhere.

These disengaged team members suck the life out of a company. Their productivity decreases at an inverse ratio to their increase in negativity. Some will even go out their way to make a case of how bad their existing situation is, in part to muster the courage to take the leap. Later, if it doesn’t work out, it’s not their fault; anything had to be better than staying where they were.

From that standpoint, Marcus is right to take a stand.

“My intention is to make San Jose (and every location) a place that retains, and attracts talent that’s passionate, and engaged. We can do it together. By demanding more of each other.”

Perhaps Marcus’s memo was a bit clumsy, and comes off as an attempt to dictate employee engagement. Taken out of context, it certainly makes for a few controversial soundbites. But isn’t the message Marcus is really sending, “Hey, if you are in this for the long haul, I want you on the team. If not, do us both a favor and move along already.”

Maybe those words will shake some folks out of complacency and encourage them to start looking elsewhere. In my experience, that either leads to an individual finding a better fit, or learning that maybe their present situation isn’t quite as bad as they were making it out to be.

Either way, it’s a win/win in the long run.

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