Employee Disengagement- The Causes, Risks, and Solutions

Posted by Kristen Monsey on August 3, 2017

Business Stress

In the HR world, our job is people - their jobs, their income, and yes, even their engagement at work.  We'd like to think that when people come to the office, they come to actually work, to contribute to their team and organizational goals, and ultimately just to "be engaged". However, whether we like it or not, employees have a life outside of work, and chances are, they care about that life with their family and friends a whole lot more than the 8+ hours a day they spend at the office. That is the life where they are able to create their own goals, set their own priorities, and manage their own work load.

The mistake that many companies make is thinking of their employees simply as cogs in the great clock of overall organizational success, handing out orders and rules, tasks and projects, drowning employees in the miserable world of red tape and company policies. This "dual life" of employees, according to Mr. Jacob Morgan at Forbes, is the root cause of employee disengagement. The clash between being the master of one's self in one life, to becoming a mindless replaceable cog in another life, taking orders from managers simply to collect a paycheck, can make anyone a disengaged employee. As Mr. Morgan says, "It's no wonder that the majority of employees around the world don't like their jobs and there is one key reason for that. Work practices, attitudes, values, strategies, technologies, and ways of working are evolving and changing at a rapid pace. whereas organizations remain stagnant when it comes to adapting to these changes." Organizations don't think of their employees as living, breathing people - and it has to be the mission of HR to start this revolution of thinking, starting with the manager level, and working all the way to the top.

There are different levels of disengagement, and each comes with its own set of risks. There are those that are simply "not engaged". In the U.S. and Canada, according to a survey by Gallup, a staggering 54% of employees are not engaged, with the numbers steadily rising. Employees who are not engaged are those that go through the motions but lack motivation and innovation. They make no effort to contribute to organizational goals, or improve their own contributions, and are essentially just leeches on the company's profit and goals. Even more threatening are the "actively disengaged" employees. Luckily, they make up a smaller number, about 18% of the workforce, and the number has started to drop. The damage they can do, however, is not minimized. These employees harbor bitter feelings towards their company for one reason or another, and actively sabotage projects or undermine their coworkers.

Whether or not the statistics are true for every organization, it is clear that the problem needs be addressed immediately. The good news is that most companies are already fairly successful even with these disengaged employees... Imagine what they could accomplish if they could turn even half of those employees into engaged employees! So what can we do to start turning the tides?

  1. Engagement starts at the top. Employees need to see that their leaders are actively engaged so that they have someone to look up to and follow. 
  2. Mission and vision statements are a way of living. They aren't simply words to mindlessly spit out to clients or investors. Employees need to understand what they mean in the way they do their everyday jobs.
  3. Create harmony between the "dual lives" of the employees. If the babysitter isn't able to pick up their children from school, they shouldn't be punished for having to leave early for their family. They shouldn't have to choose sides between work and family.
  4. Communication is key. Employees want to receive feedback and direction from their leaders. If not, they assume their work isn't valuable to the company, and they will simply stop trying. 
  5. Invest in your employees' future careers. Employees not only want to know that their work is appreciated, but that they can grow in their position. Creating development plans, and actively working towards grooming each employee as a future leader will give them the motivation and vision of the future that they need to excel. 

With all this in mind, HR is burdened with the task of turning these statistics around and creating a fully engaged workforce. It's not going to happen overnight, but simply making it a priority is a huge step. Just one employee that is converted from being actively disengaged to engaged can make a world of difference.