All the surveys prove it—more than two thirds of Americans would rather be working somewhere else. Worldwide, the problem is even worse. A 2013 Gallup poll found that internationally only 13% of workers are engaged.
What Causes Disengagement?
Many articles have been written about the causes of disengagement, but most experts agree that employee feelings of under- or unappreciation are a major factor. Whether the feelings stem from dissatisfaction about pay, work tasks, level of authority, work environment, or something else, once they’ve taken hold, reduced enthusiasm for the job follows.
Unfortunately, many employers don’t notice the warning signs of disengagement or think employee happiness is a nonissue. So long as people seem to be doing the work, that’s all that matters, right? Um … wrong. When an employee begins to lose interest in the job, nothing but a pointed intervention can stop the employee’s attitude from going from bad to worse.
Getting the Disengaged Back on Track
All the surveys can’t be wrong. Chances are, you’ve got a disengaged employee or three in your camp. How can you get these folks back on track? Doing nothing is a mistake. Disengaged employees are less productive, less creative, and more prone to absences and accidents. Follow the tips below to minimize the potential disruption.
#1. Know the signs.
As mentioned earlier, employers don’t always recognize a disengaged employee when they see one. However, early intervention can’t happen unless the problem is caught early. Warning signs of disengagement include:
- Decreased participation. Disengaged employees will shy away from offering opinions about what’s working and what isn’t, because they’ve stopped believing their ideas make a difference, or they’ve stopped caring, period.
- Increased absenteeism. Disengaged employees want to be somewhere else and take whatever opportunity they can to be somewhere else.
- Increased late arrivals and early departures. Ah, those pesky but necessary job interviews! Disengaged employees have to fit them in somewhere.
Again, these signs reveal themselves in the early stages of disengagement, before the employee has moved from antsy to deeply disgruntled. More severe signs include a notable number of missed deadlines, increased mistakes, and decreased cooperation.
#2. Face the issue squarely.
Don’t hesitate to approach the disengaged employee for a frank discussion. The goal here is not to criticize but to express concern. For example, you may say that you’ve noticed the employee seems a little distracted lately, and you’re wondering if there’s anything you can do? The employee will either deny or confirm your observation, but regardless you’ve opened the door for conversation. If you’ve timed this correctly, and the employee is in the beginning stages of discontent, you’ll have an excellent chance of turning things around by proving you care.
#3. Recognize that disengagement is an emotional process.
People disengage from work because of how they feel about their job tasks, their workplace, or their employer. If you’re not prepared to deal with the employee’s emotions, you won’t be able to re-engage him or her.
#4. Be ready to give something.
Disengaged employees have needs that aren’t being met. Perhaps the need is for more money, more interesting assignments, or more autonomy. Whatever it is, they’ll be disengaged until they get it. Your job as a manager is to get work done through your people, so you’re obliged to supply whatever resources, support, or encouragement you can to make that happen.
#5. Keep the door open.
Work is a continual negotiation. Consciously or unconsciously, employees are constantly weighing whether what they’re getting from work (recognition, sense of purpose, intellectual stimulation, compensation, etc.) is worth their investment of time, energy, and talent. Engagement, therefore, is not a one and done. It can wax and wane, and managers need to stay tuned to the morale of their employees. Keep the door, and the dialogue, open.
Disengaged employees may be common, but they don’t have to be common in your organization. In fact, if you follow our tips, they won’t be.
For more on how to better engage your employees with your own “open door” policy, Check out our previous webinar “Fuel Employee Trust and Engagement with Authentic Communication”