Disengagement: When It Seems All Wrong

Over the last several decades, engagement has become an accepted predictor of organizational success. Although increasingly leaders verbally confirm the importance of engagement, there is still considerable variation in understanding of what engagement encompasses, how it really works, and how to improve it in your organization.

In past posts, I have discussed the meaning and elements of engagement as well as examined how to measure and encourage higher levels of engagement.  However, we have only touched on disengagement.  In the simplest sense, disengagement is when an employ feels detached or removed from their job and organization.  When an employee is negative, distrusting, and disenchanted, the employee is disengaged.

What are some of the signs of the level of disengagement in your organization? Some of the most common characteristics include:

  • Presence of groups or cliques;
  • Regular conflicts and “acting out” when issues are minor;
  • Apathy toward the organization, team, and job;
  • Lack of trust in co-workers, supervisor, and management;
  • High levels of gossip or undermining;
  • Strong risk aversion and a desire to protect oneself; and
  • Low levels of productivity when capabilities are present.

We have all worked for organizations that experienced a certain level of each of these characteristics and have seen the negative results.

What can a manager do to improve engagement? Three simple steps that will significantly improve engagement include:

  • Make connections
  • Bring people together
  • Address individual needs

Make Connections

Solid relationships help prevent small things from becoming big things.  In the workplace, there are numerous stressors that can distract, aggravate, and demoralize employees.  Most of us agree that tough times are easier when you have people that listen and support you.  Although a leader should not be a friend to his or her employees, a positive relationship goes a long way to mitigating the impact of negative events or news.  Just as we maintain equipment to ensure optimal performance, it is critical that we maintain relationships with those we depend on to reach our goals.  If we want someone to feel they are part of something and included, it is critical that there is a connection or linkage at a personal level.

Bring People Together

Isolation is a dangerous precursor to disengagement.  Adversity is easier when people feel they are in the “same boat” or work with those that understand the situation and share the experience.  It is incumbent on leaders to bring people together with a common purpose, mission, and set of goals.  People want to feel part of something and the absence of this feeling can easily lead to disengagement.

Address Individual Needs

Although we have the collective need to belong and be part of something bigger than ourselves, we also have individual needs that must be met to feel engaged.  By getting to know those that work for us, we can identify those things most important to them from a professional and personal standpoint.  Once we know those things, it is incumbent upon each of us as leaders to jointly develop strategies to help them meet their goals.

A significant portion of workplace issues arise from disengagement.  If as leaders we can tackle this challenge, many of the counter-productive behaviors that we spend considerable time on will be diminished.  In other words, we can treat the disease and not the symptoms.

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