I love the definition of employee engagement that I read in this recent TalentCulture post. It’s succinct and comprehensive:
When employees are engaged, they adopt the vision, values, and purpose of the organization they work for. They become passionate contributors, innovating problem solvers, and stunning colleagues.
But what does it mean to be a disengaged employee? Well, according to that same post, disengaged employees are “not poised to put in extra effort for success. They don’t like going to work most days. They’re unlikely to recommend the products of, or employment with, their employer.”
Laziness, apathy, and dissidence are merely symptoms of bigger problems that can affect employee performance. And by the time many of those symptoms surface, remediation to improve employee engagement might be impossible.
2 Types of Disengagement
According to Gallup, employee engagement isn’t binary. There are actually three classifications; engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. Engaged employees are easy to spot as are the miserable, dissident, counter-culture folks who are actively disengaged. The silent majority who are not engaged make up over 50% of the American workforce and are adept at blending in with the rest of the herd.
Sure some things are obvious – absenteeism, low energy, bad attitude, frequent use of social media, lack of enthusiasm – but few disengaged employees start out by staging a coup from their cubicle. What are the early signs of employee disengagement?
1) No Initiative in their Employee Performance
Poor work product is a reliable barometer for disengagement, but good work might be a red herring. An employee may feel disconnected from your organization but might still perform because of a personal work ethic. Or maybe their job is too easy and they are not being challenged. Don’t be fooled into thinking that employee engagement is high simply because the person is achieving their goals for work. In fact, the lack of challenge that manifests as quality work may be what is behind the disengagement. Lack of challenge that manifests as quality work may be behind employee disengagement.
In order to manage performance more effectively, look how motivated the person is in a different context. Stage a voluntary hack-day for the company. Make it fun and offer great prizes. Does your top performer choose to not participate? If there are no other matters taking up their time, you may have a disengaged employee.
2) Unhealthy Activities
How often does an employee go to the break room for a coffee or a snack? How often do they head out for a cigarette? Of course, your employee may just be hungry, tired, or addicted to nicotine, but sometimes people over-indulge in unhealthy behaviors to fill a void in their personal or professional lives. People who are truly motivated by purpose often derive fulfillment simply by working diligently at their desks. They may even have to be reminded by a grumbling belly that they haven’t eaten lunch yet.
3) Silence Indicates a Problem in the Workplace
Ok, maybe you just have an introvert on your hands. Some people feel their batteries recharge when they have their own space. But when the entire company or specific teams are experiencing a win and a select few show no excitement or celebration, that’s an employee engagement issue.
4) Lack of Learning = Lack of Work Motivation
When is the last time that quiet employee shared an article of interest about your company, marketplace trends, or interesting research dealing with their role? When is the last time they shared anything at all? Curiosity is a good sign that an employee cares about the bigger picture. They have a high level of work motivation and want to learn and grow in their role. When you encourage learning and growth as a company value and employees don’t share your enthusiasm, it’s time to take a closer look at their employee engagement status.
5) Wasted Weekends
When we aren’t happy or we’re uninspired at work, those emotions have a way of infiltrating all aspects of our lives. Are people spending their weekends sleeping most of the time, or are they pursuing a personal passion?
Winning at Work
I like to think of work as a game. As a player, I need to know the rules of how to play and how to win. These are set out via clear goals and key objectives from management and leadership. I want teammates (employees) and fans (customers) who are loyal and energetic. Lastly, I have to love the game and care about the outcome of playing it.
Problems in the workplace begin when people don’t have a clear direction from leadership. They are not placed in roles that are aligned with their strengths or where the outcomes of work feed their souls. According to Forbes, employees like to use their strengths. A strong defensive player shouldn’t be thrown onto the court as a power forward, and a creative contributor should not be head of sales.
Another major deterrent to employee engagement is when the company either lacks values and purpose, or those phrases have just been written down somewhere and are no longer alive in the organizational culture. Leaders at work are like coaches. Their job is to inspire everyone to win, to achieve a larger purpose. Inspiring leaders create more engaged employees.
What’s Missing for the Disengaged Employee?
Google the words “employee engagement” and you will see no shortage of articles explaining why disengagement happens and what you can do about it. Most places the responsibility firmly in the hands of management and leadership. They suggest a change in management strategy that defines the company’s purpose and values, acknowledges employee triumphs, creates clear goals and key objectives, and most importantly creates a work culture where open communication is valued.
Managers must ask questions so that they can find out what the key to employee motivation is and what employees want from their jobs or their personal lives. This can be as simple as a new stapler, or as complex as creating a telework situation so that someone can finish their degree or start a family.
The best management strategy includes asking employees to share their ideas. And when those ideas are implemented, they share the employee’s triumphs with the whole team or company. They let everyone see the difference that was made.
In workplaces that value open communication and feedback, especially between employees and their managers, issues, and frustrations quickly surface. Instead of festering and eventually leading to disengagement, managers can offer support. Employees are more likely to trust leadership, building relationships where people are more forthcoming and willing to ask for help.
Disengagement may be an epidemic in the American workplace, but improving communication in the workplace is the key to increasing employee engagement. When it comes down to it, many of us are willing to let down a boss who is a stranger at a company where we are just pawns in their game. But how many of us are willing to let down the people we care about when we are trusted equals in an enterprise where outcomes truly matter?
Author: David Mizne
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