Are disengaged employees a blight on business?
There are a lot of articles and reports available maligning the disengaged employee as a blight on organizations, something to be despised and something to be got rid of as soon as possible. There are even some articles openly referring to the disengaged employee as a ‘bad employee’. But is this fair to the disengaged employees in your workforce?
Is it fair to state that disengaged employees are not committed to either their own or their organization’s growth and success? After all, while engagement and commitment are linked, they are still separate concepts. It might also be time to define disengagement and underperformance as two separate concepts. There is no doubt that disengaged employees are linked with both underperformance and lower commitment. However, it is also possible that the negative connotations of such definitions are distracting us from the truth that will ultimately be of much greater benefit to our organizations than simply identifying and getting rid of disengaged employees.
The old saying is true here – it is detrimental to paint all disengaged employees with the same brush.
So, do disengaged employees care?
The simple answer to this is, some do and some don’t. However, in order to maximise the opportunity presented by disengaged employees, we should assume that most employees do actually care about some aspect of their work, including those who are reporting as disengaged. Some will care about the quality of the work they produce, while others will care about their own image in the organization. Some employees will care about their own career and the impact their current predicament is having on it. Some will care about their team or certain members of that team. Some employees simply care about being respected and/or valued for the work they do, even though they may not hold any lofty ambitions for achievement or promotion. They just want to do their job and for that to be noticed now and then.
This ‘care’ though hasn’t been enough to keep these employees from becoming disengaged and this is a concern for organizations. Of particular concern will be that there are many employees now registering as ‘disengaged’ who have learned to be disengaged as a result of their experiences to date in their organization and/or team. It is possible that these employees started off as engaged, committed and productive but something happened along the way to disengage them.
The etimes2 philosophy on employee engagement is that if an employee doesn’t care at some level, then they will be neither disengaged nor engaged. If they don’t care, then they are not emotionally invested in their job and so are less likely to experience the emotional outcome that is engagement/disengagement. These employees show up on the etimes2 dashboards as ‘sometimes engaged’, a category usually heavily populated by soon to be leavers (specifically referring to the experience and results of etimes2 clients).
Learn from your disengaged employees
The key issue for organizations though is to understand this element of care among disengaged employees and learn some important lessons. Disengaged employees are emotionally charged because they care about what they feel they aren’t getting in return for their time, attendance, effort, skills, experience and intellect at work. Salary only serves to keep employees turning up at work, but isn’t enough to keep people engaged. These emotions mean that disengaged employees will usually respond to surveys and answer questions if they feel that they are listened to and anonymity is assured.
Each individual employee has his/her own specific requirements from work in addition to the salary and benefits package on offer. We all know this as the ‘what is in it for me’ scenario. This is a personal blend of requirements that mix elements of development, growth, career enhancement, relationships, trust, respect, authority, autonomy, interesting work, contribution, value and so on. This list can go on and is a hugely personal experience.
Organizations can learn a range of important lessons from caring for, communicating with and observing disengaged employees. This opportunity should not be spurned in a haste to usher disengaged employees out the door. Etimes2 enables our clients to learn what is driving engagement and disengagement in each team and to understand the prevalent culture in each team. This provides further insights to what it takes for an individual to be successful in each team as well as targeting leadership and team development and coaching.
More importantly we can help you learn what has happened along the way to disengage otherwise good employees. Etimes2 gives you the opportunity to run single question pulse surveys of your design and links responses back to engagement survey responses. You can start to learn the back story of your employees and get real-time feedback on the actual experiences of your disengaged employees.
This is a massive and extremely valuable learning opportunity for organizations that won’t be picked up by a simple employee engagement survey.
But, feedback from disengaged employees is all negative and cynical
Maybe it is. But it can also be very real and sometimes quite moving and emotional. Even if it is quite cynical, it provides a valuable insight into how people feel and can provide a rich source of insights to add to the data produced by the employee engagement survey.
I recently observed a situation in an organization where an employee placed a very well written but cynical statement on the company intranet during a period of major change and turbulence within the organization and its surrounding environment. The statement voiced widely held employee views on what was happening as a result of the change and provided a good learning opportunity and good insights to employee mood. It also provided an opportunity for senior management to visibly accept feedback and respond, even just to say thanks for the feedback and increase communications addressing the emotions and fears voiced in the statement. Instead, the organization decided to find the statement offensive and removed it from the intranet. An opportunity was lost.
The advice is, ignore the cynicism and negativity. Dig deeper to see what is really being communicated, take this on board and act on it in a meaningful way. Simply doing this and being seen to do it will reduce cynicism and negativity. People like to be heard and to be taken notice of. These are valuable nuggets of feedback.
So, we can learn from disengaged employees, but why should we care for them?
The bottom line here is that many of your disengaged employees will be looking for new jobs and opportunities to fill the needs they aren’t getting in their current job. By following the advice in these articles, you will be able to re-engage some of your disengaged employees and some you won’t. The latter group are employees that you will want to say ‘thank you’ to and ‘farewell’. If they aren’t going to be re-engaged then it is best for both the employee and the organization to go your separate ways.
However, you do need to care for them and provide them with training and support so they can seek alternative employment with a clear mind focused on their job search. Too often disengaged employees are left alone to seek an escape. The problem with this is that they are often caught up in negative ‘endless loop’ thinking and are searching for a job for all the wrong reasons. They are trying to escape their own personal prison instead of positively searching for their next opportunity.
The result of ‘trying to escape’ is that it often carries into interviews. It is exacerbated by the probable feeling of underachievement by the disengaged employee. S/he feels that current employment did not provide the experience and career enhancing opportunities it should have and, therefore, his/her self-efficacy is negative. As a result, s/he does not expect to be successful in any job interview and is likely to perform poorly. The disengaged employee becomes stuck in a job they don’t like and don’t want to stay in. The organization is stuck with an increasingly disengaged employee and all the negatives that brings with it.
So, support, train and develop your disengaged employees. Some will re-engage and stay with you as a valuable employee. Others will feel better about leaving and will perform better in their efforts to leave because they are seeking an opportunity, not an escape. Your organization also develops a reputation as a caring employer.
Everyone is a winner.
What are you doing to care for your disengaged employees, bring them back into the workforce as a valuable contributing member and to learn from them?