Employee disengagement is not just a phase; it’s a contagion that can result in your entire team disengaging from their work and one another. That progression may happen slowly over time or seemingly overnight. When it does, however, it's a sign that something in your organization isn't working. If left unaddressed, employee disengagement will create a toxic work environment. And it's a lot harder to recover from a toxic work environment than from a disengaged workforce.
Employees who are unmotivated, frustrated, or disinterested show all the symptoms of a disengaged workforce. Most employees will make an effort to hide the earliest indications of disengagement from you, so it’s crucial that you pay close attention and heed the warning signs. The longer employee disengagement persists, the more difficult it will be to rectify.
Employee disengagement is both behavioral and emotional. The primary behavioral indicator of employee disengagement is low productivity, but it might also present as increased absenteeism, turnover, and mistakes. The emotional indicators range from low morale with minimal communication to increased anger and conflict. Over time, disengagement damages your employees’ well-being and happiness.
It also costs your company money. A study by McLean & Company, an HR research and advisory firm, found that disengaged employees cost an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. The same study reported that lost productivity due to disengaged employees costs the U.S. economy up to $350 billion annually. If companies want to bolster productivity and profitability, increase customer loyalty, and slash attrition and disengagement losses, they must build an engaged workforce.
You cannot measure the health of your organization by productivity and profitability numbers alone. The overall health of your organization is reflected in your people. Are they happy at work? Are they productive, motivated, and energized? Or are they just going through the motions? As a leader, it is your responsibility to pay attention to your team -; to notice not just the level of their performance, but their emotional states. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.
A 2022 Gallup report on the State of Global Workplace found that 60% of people are emotionally detached at work, and 19% are miserable due to what they experience as unfair treatment, unmanageable workloads, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support, and unreasonable time pressures.
Unfortunately, these problems are not new. During my 20+ years of consulting with companies of all sizes, from Fortune 500 companies to family businesses, I’ve helped countless leaders improve their company culture by listening and responding appropriately to negative feedback from their employees. The first instinct of many leaders is to dismiss such feedback, which only exacerbates the underlying problem. Below are the most common missteps I’ve observed and the impact they have on employee engagement:
As a leader, you have a lot on your plate. It is easy to jump to conclusions, minimize an employee’s concerns, or assume there is nothing to be done. But failing to acknowledge and address your employees’ concerns sets an example and makes it easier for other employees to follow suit. It creates a culture of dismissal, and over time, your employees will continue to disengage from their work. Given the message you’re sending, can you blame them? So how can you course correct?
Start with the end goal in mind: To combat disengagement, plan to build an engaged workforce. Create a culture with clear and defined roles and expectations, empathy, open communication, ongoing feedback, and a sense of belonging for all employees. More specifically:
The world of work is changing. Organizations can no longer afford to think of their employees as cogs in a wheel -; instead, they must consider and pay attention to the whole person. Signs of disengagement are often subtle and don’t always present as a dip in productivity. As the Gallup study noted, “When leaders take responsibility for the well-being of their workers, the result is not only productive organizations but thriving individuals, families, and communities.”
It can be humbling to take a step back and assess your organizational structure and functioning. But it is a necessary process to connect with your employees, prevent or repair disengagement, and demonstrate your commitment to the people with whom you work and the organization.
©Copyright 2022 Debra Roberts, LCSW All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.
A version of this article was initially published on Inc.com as:
A Disengaged Workforce Is a Harbinger of a Toxic Workplace Culture
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