Employee Disengagement – the what and the how!

What does employee disengagement look like?

Employee disengagement, have you heard of it? And wondered what it meant. Heck, what causes it?

Today, let’s explore what leaders grapple with: “What causes employees to become disengaged from a job that they were likely very excited about initially?” Join me as we dive into the intricate realm of employee disengagement.

The Alarming Trend Related to Employee Disengagement:

A bored disengaged employeeGallup reports a disheartening trend—employee engagement has decreased by 5% over the last three years, with only 33% of employees fully engaged this past year.

As a leader, I understand the challenges, especially during the difficult early days of the pandemic. Even as a business owner, I struggled to stay engaged due to a lack of personal connection and barriers to collaboration. Despite changes in our business climate over the last four years, many employees still grapple with a lack of motivation.

Navigating Challenges around Employee Disconnect:

In addressing these challenges, I turn to three fundamental principles from Patrick Lencioni and the Table Group. I’m eager to share these drivers of work satisfaction with you.

Cause of Disengaged Employees Not What You Might Think:

The cause of employee disengagement is not found in salary, vacation, or benefit packages. Unfortunately, employees can’t achieve high engagement on their own. Leaders like you play the most crucial role in an employee’s work fulfillment.

Three key factors drive employees to unhappiness—Anonymity, Irrelevance, & Immeasurement. I’m going to explain what each of these means. If leaders pay attention to these three primary disciplines, employees will feel valued, relevant, and in control of their success.

The First Cause: Anonymity:

The initial cause of employee disengagement is anonymity. Employees desire to be known by their team, leaders, and organization. They want others to recognize them as individuals. Employees who feel invisible or anonymous won’t love their work.

As a leader, here are a few ways you can eliminate anonymity from your team:

  1. Recognize that getting to know your team members is your role. What you can learn about people is amazing when you allow them to share.
  2. Do an exercise of writing down everyone’s names and everything you know about them—who they are, where they are from, and what is true about them. You might be surprised at some of the gaps on your page.
  3. Finally, take the time to reach out and fill in those blanks. Everyone will have a different comfort level with what they want to share, but everyone will appreciate the interest.

After sharing this Discipline, I had an executive who instituted a “Connection before Content” at the beginning of every leadership team meeting. This quick 5 minutes created a consistent opportunity for everyone to connect and learn about each other. As people got to know each other better, trust, productivity, and engagement increased. Thus, employee disengagement went down.

The Next Cause: Irrelevance:

This brings me to our next cause of employee disengagement—irrelevance. Employees want to be relevant and know that their job matters to someone, be it customers, co-workers, or leaders. To find lasting fulfillment, they need to see a connection between their work and the satisfaction of other people.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for employees to forget why their work matters, and as a leader, it is your role to make sure they know. As leaders, we all make false assumptions about what people know and understand. We don’t want to bother people or be repetitive. The challenge is that we often don’t say what needs to be said. And we don’t tell them often enough.

One of my favourite examples of extinguishing irrelevance is a client I worked with. Their employee engagement survey indicated a culture of artificial harmony. They were too afraid to say what they thought for fear of upsetting others. Their engagement scores increased after practicing peer feedback. And in learning to share the value they provided to the team. And employee disengagement went down.

The Final Cause: Immeasurement:

This leads me to our final cause of employee disengagement—a word made up by Patrick Lencioni himself—immeasurement. Employees need to be able to measure their progress and self-assess their successes and failures. Team members should have a sense of ownership and control over their daily work. They should not wait for a performance review to know how they are doing.

For some jobs, it is evident. For instance, servers have tips, sales teams have quotas, and athletes have statistics. However, automatic feedback isn’t available for most jobs. As the leader, it’s up to you to work with your employees to produce something simple, tangible & meaningful.

I borrowed this story from a colleague because it is a great example. In working with a manager at a fast food joint, they wanted to identify a metric for his drive-through staff. Initially, they considered measuring how fast the staff could deliver the food. However, most of that was out of the drive-through staff’s control. Instead, they focused their role on making customers happier and used the metric of the # of smiles from customers to gauge their success. This simple ‘smile’ measurement made employee disengagement go down.

Employee disengagement? A non-issue for this Outstanding Leader :

To wrap up, I’d like to highlight the most outstanding leader I have worked with. I was immediately drawn to Aly’s genuine care and concern for people. He doesn’t just know the names of his team members, but he knows details about their family, their backgrounds, and what’s important to them. Aly lets employees know how important their jobs are to the organization’s mission. This is a leader who acknowledges when they work long, hard hours on projects and quantifies the impact they have had. Nothing he does is overly extraordinary—but the engagement of those he leads is notable.

In Conclusion:

This work is more important now than ever. Employees are stressed and burned out, and they feel disconnected and unappreciated. We are facing a mental health crisis. Removing anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement from your teams will go a long way to improving overall engagement.

I’d love to hear which of the three you will take action on first. Get to know your employees and ensure they know their work matters and they have a metric to assess their success. Impact is driven by action, so share your first step in the comments.

Unsure about how to maximize leadership impact on employee satisfaction?


Download the Guide to Employee Engagement

a Step-by-Step Guide to Increase Engagement without Overburdening Leaders

It includes a simple leadership exercise to quickly improve the work experience of each employee on your team.

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