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The Employee Disengagement Dilemma: A Workplace Certainty or Entirely Avoidable?

Mar 6, 2020 | Engagement, Leadership, Talent Management, Team Management, Workplace Culture

This blog re-post is courtesy of TTI SI, view the original here.

The Employee Disengagement Dilemma: A Workplace Certainty or Entirely Avoidable?

It’s fairly accepted that employee engagement can be directly tied to increased productivity and, ultimately, higher profitability for an organization. Knowing the importance of keeping employees engaged, it would seem obvious that organizations would – and should – make engagement a top priority. The reality is that most organizations don’t prioritize engagement to the degree that they should. And it shows.

According to Gallup, only 34% of employees in the US are engaged in their work. 53% are not engaged. Worse, this means that the remaining 13% are actively disengaged. These actively disengaged employees cost US businesses a staggering $483 to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.

Getting Engaged

One of the most comprehensive and widely cited sources for employee engagement research is the Gallup Organization’s 2017 report State of the American Workplace. In this report, they describe three categories of employees:

  • Engaged: Highly involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. These motivated employees drive performance and innovation and move the organization forward.
  • Not Engaged: Psychologically unattached to their work and company. Because their needs are not being fully met, they’re putting time—but not energy or passion—into their work.
  • Actively Disengaged: They aren’t just unhappy at work, they are resentful that their needs aren’t being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers seek to accomplish.

Why Do Workers Become Disengaged?

Workers become disengaged for a number of different reasons. Some don’t like the work they do. Others don’t like their boss. Still others don’t feel recognized for work well done. To that point, 69% of workers say they’d work harder if they were recognized for their good work. 69 percent!

Think about it…a leader or manager taking five seconds to tell somebody “good job” could increase productivity by 69% while costing a company absolutely nothing. So much goodwill can be achieved with so little effort by a leader who understands this important fact. If you are a leader, honestly ask yourself when you last took time out of your day to recognize a job well done. Take a moment right now and make the effort to compliment a job well done. Not only will you make someone’s day, you might be pleasantly surprised by what happens because of your gesture.

Disengagement, overall, can be attributed to two main culprits. The first is when an organization doesn’t take the time or have an understanding of what is important to the employee. They don’t know (or care) about their personal and/or professional goals. The other reason disengagement happens is when unqualified leaders end up in leadership roles. Working for an incompetent boss inspires absolutely no one.

What happens when employees begin to disengage? Workers begin to check out, no longer giving the effort they once did. Passing the buck becomes the norm instead of the exception, with workers no longer willing to take ownership of issues that arise. Even worse, apathy or sheer boredom begins to set in. Apathy is a business’ number one enemy because it is what powers disengagement. Since an organization’s people are its most important resource, employee disengagement can be a company’s biggest problem.

Ways to Keep the Workforce Engaged

If we identify that a disengaged workforce results in lower productivity and profitability, then it seems that keeping workers engaged should not just be a priority, it should be THE priority. What steps can a leader or business owner take to ensure he or she does not lose the focus of the workforce? Here are a few key things that can make all the difference:

  1. Recognize a job well done. While not every employee enjoys being recognized in a public forum, every employee appreciates being told they did a good job. It does not require any compensatory attachment; simply saying the words “good job” to an employee can have the same impact as receiving a bonus check, and the positive sentiment will undoubtedly last longer.
  2. Understand what is important to your employees. This sounds so simple but how many companies take the time to truly understand what is important to an individual? Everyone has motivations that drive them and if a company doesn’t know what the employee aspires to achieve, the chances for disengagement increase significantly. Leaders need to work regularly with employees to identify and plan important goals, both personally and professionally, then work with the employee to keep them on a path to success.
  3. Lead by example. If you are a leader, be prepared to practice what you preach. If you are a leader that mandates how things should be done, but then operates outside of those same constraints, you will immediately and irrevocably lose the respect and trust of your staff.
  4. Make work meaningful. There will always be aspects of a job that people may not like. And yes, that’s why workers earn a salary. However, a person should enjoy what they do a majority of the time. If that continuum leans toward the “unhappy with work” side, the quality of the work will be compromised and the employee is likely a short-term solution. If you want people to perform to their capabilities, make sure they enjoy what they are doing, and help them find a way to make that possible.
  5. Help employees find their purpose. With so many employees (and leaders, for that matter) working for the sole purpose of collecting a paycheck, the disengagement issue continues to be widespread. Finding one’s “why” may be the best solution for eliminating, or at least reducing, the problem of employee disengagement. In his book Find Your Why, Simon Sinek writes, “Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment come from why we do it.” He continues, “If we want to feel an undying passion for our work, if we want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we need to know our WHY.”


Employers need to realize that a majority of their employees work more out of necessity than preference. Regardless of the motivation, organizations still have a great deal of control over whether or not their workforce remains engaged.

Many of the difference-making actions that matter most to an employee can be easily accomplished with a little time and attention from the organization’s leadership and management. Leaders need to recognize a job well done. Great leaders go out of their way to look for examples where an employee exceeded expectations and recognize it. Making work meaningful is also a very important aspect to most workers. People simply want to feel like they are contributing in a meaningful way. When addressing a worker’s shortcomings, start by finding a positive in the employee’s work, so the message isn’t entirely negative.

A worthwhile organization will help employees develop a path toward their goals, both professionally and personally. Employers need to realize there’s a difference between an employee’s work life and personal life and when the two conflict, personal life will almost always take priority. Finding ways to make a person’s work complement—instead of conflict with—their personal life will make for a happy, engaged employee.


Guest TTI SI Blog Author: Dave Clark

As both a writer and a musician, Dave Clark enjoys exploring areas where he can express his creativity, which is influenced by his strong Harmonious Driving Force.

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