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THE PATH TO DISENGAGEMENT
New recruits to any organization are generally
full of optimism and enthusiasm,
but somewhere along the way, that positivity
can run off the rails.
“I don’t know of any employee who
started their position or new career hoping
to be disengaged,” said Brown. “Generally,
they’re excited, enthusiastic and motivated
to do well, learn new skills and contribute.
But studies show over time this high engagement
can wane as a result of unmet
expectations or broken promises, such as a
disconnect between the impression of the
organization that was communicated during
the hiring process and the realities the
employee discovers on the job.”
THE “MISS” IN MISMANAGEMENT
One of the biggest culprits is managers
whose skills aren’t up to the task of effectively
leading and motivating a team.
“It’s widely understood that most disengaged
employees aren’t just leaving
an organization, whether they’re physically
leaving or just mentally leaving,” said
Hotton-MacDonald. “Instead, they’re
leaving their supervisor or manager.”
A 2013 Gallup report on employee engagement
found that managers accounted
for 70 per cent of variance in employee
engagement scores across business units.
In the report, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton
wrote, “Here’s something they’ll probably
never teach you in business school: The
single biggest decision you make in your
job – bigger than all of the rest – is who
you name manager. When you name the
wrong person manager, nothing fixes that
bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits
A manager might, for example, fail to
establish a connection and a sense of caring
about the individuals on the team.
“Great leaders are team builders; they
create an environment that fosters trust
and collaboration,” said Brown. “Surveys
indicate that being cared about by colleagues
is a strong predictor of employee
Managers who connect with employees
are more likely to spot potential troubles
before they grow into serious problems.
“That early intervention is so critical,”
said Hotton-MacDonald. “If you get a
sense that someone is getting disengaged,
or that an entire work unit is disengaged,
if you have that rapport, chances are you’ll
be able to intervene a bit earlier and perhaps
turn things around.”
Being tuned in to employees also helps
managers know when someone’s gone the
extra mile for the organization – and then
reward that action. Missing the chance to
recognize employees is a bigger threat to
engagement than many might realize.
“Some leaders do recognize and reward
performance – and others don’t,”
said Sterling. Research shows recognition
is a key driver of both performance
and engagement, and can have a ripple effect
across entire teams. But the inverse is
true, as well.
“There’s also the issue of visible disparity
across teams,” said Sterling. “When
an individual or team sees their peers
and colleagues getting recognized – and
they’re working just as hard or possibly
harder and not receiving any recognition
– that can cause disengagement really
A 2001 Gallup survey of U.S. employees
found that the number-one reason
people leave their jobs is they don’t feel
appreciated. In fact, 65 per cent of those
surveyed said they received no recognition
for good work in the previous year.
While organizations must understand
this, even intrinsically, most are not effectively
empowering managers to reward
anyone. A 2013 Aberdeen Group survey
found only 14 per cent of organizations
provide managers with the necessary tools
for rewards and recognition.
As with managers not effectively empowered
to reward employees, the root cause
of the disengagement might be a larger,
Too-heavy workloads, for example, can
have dire consequences for engagement.
Thanks to a fiercely competitive marketplace,
many organizations have become quite
lean, and workers can find themselves overwhelmed.
Plenty of organizations, too, have
an unofficial always-on expectation when it
comes to emails and phone calls outside of
traditional office hours. These pressures can
take a toll on employees and lead to burnout,
a state defined as the opposite of engagement
in multiple research studies.
“An organization could have a problem
with overall work/life balance and trouble
with resource allocations,” said Sterling.
“There might be a situation where there
are not enough resources to do the job
and people are experiencing burnout. This
tends to go hand-in-hand with a lack of
recognition and reward, too, which then
compounds the problem.”
HRPATODAY.CA ❚ SEPTEMBER 2016 ❚ 23