David Wray

Building teamsCommunicationEffective TeamsEngaged EmployeesLeadershipMotivationOpportunities

Disengaged Employee Workplaces, what to do?

What has the pandemic done to how we see our employer?

SilkRoad Technology and OnePoll surveyed over 1500 employees and 500 executives covering, amongst other things, employer support during the pandemic. The results indicate a real gap in communication and a surge in disengaged employees. Eighty-six percent of executives believe employees were supported, whereas more than half of the employees believe their employer did not do enough. 

It is remarkable how these gaps arise through, at the most basic level, a lack of communication. Let’s set that aside for the moment and consider the “so what” question of the survey. A clear and concerning finding for employers is that 40% of employees plan on resigning for a new role. This was even more pronounced through a Deutsche Bank survey, where more than three-quarters of those under 30 are actively looking for or open to a new role. 

These US survey results resonate with comparable study findings around the world.

The pandemic has undoubtedly triggered the recent movement, but it’s not the driver behind why employees leave. The number one reason an employee leaves is job dissatisfaction, either with the role or with management. 

The story behind a disengaged employee

When we think about job dissatisfaction, we can break down the reasons a little further:

  • Having a bleak or poor attitude towards the job itself
  • Suspecting that we are underpaid relative for the role or relative to peers
  • Believing that we are being treated unfairly
  • Feeling undervalued for the amount of effort expended

Studies show that job satisfaction is a more important factor in the decision to stay or to leave, meaning the working environment plays a dominant role. Key in this relationship is that an employee feels that the organization cares about them and values their contribution. The most direct connection to this experience is the one between an individual and their manager. 

The implication is clear – leaders throughout the organization need to work harder to ensure every employee feels genuinely appreciated. 

The decision to leave – a typical example

Christof works in a small professional services team, along with half a dozen other legal specialists. He is known as the team’s workhorse and the “easy go-to” when management needs something done quickly! Christof feels that he is pulling the lion’s share of work and does not feel recognized because the pressure keeps mounting and pay remains unchanged. He also feels that he is being held back from pursuing more meaningful internal roles, something about being indispensable to this team! Christof’s manager, Anna, seems blissfully aware of the depth of Christof’s job dissatisfaction.

Christof’s example is a common one. Christof is a disengaged employee and wants to leave, yet Anna seems unaware of the impact of her leadership behaviours and choices. 

What can be done to claw this situation back from the cliff edge?

Five leadership steps to reverse a disengaged employee

The pandemic offers a blatant reminder of the relationship between how we treat employees and how productive, engaged, and loyal they are. Employees need autonomy, variety, a sense of purpose, and support to achieve job satisfaction and engagement. When employees see how their effort contributes to the bigger picture, this results in their commitment and satisfaction.

What can leaders do?

  1. Communicate with Clarity and Purpose
  2. Inspire and Motivate Team Members
  3. Create Stretch Development Opportunities 
  4. Foster an Environment of Trust and Reassurance within the Team
  5. Develop Team Members

Retaining a disengaged employee by re-engaging them

Let’s apply these five leadership steps to see how Anna can re-engage Christof and retain him with the company. 

1. Communicating with Clarity and Purpose

Anna needs to ensure Christof is neither feeling lost nor confused in understanding the team’s direction. When she communicates clearly providing a directional roadmap then Christof will naturally tend to feel more engaged.

2. Inspire and Motivate 

When Anna inspires, her passion will release energy within Christof (and other team members) allowing them to deliver amazing outcomes. As people, we are naturally driven to want to make a difference so it follows, those leaders that can bring this tendency to the forefront succeed. Anna needs to inspire commitment, passion, and enthusiasm for her team in order to create a positive workspace.

3. Create Stetch Development Opportunities

Anna can work with Christof to establish stretch development goals, ones that Christof is excited to take on. Through the collaborative discussion, work doesn’t seem like work (dare I say, it becomes fun). This will naturally engage Christof leaving him feeling valued.

4. Foster an Environment of Trust and Reassurance

An essential element in any relationship is trust. In this, leaders must be willing to walk the talk and live an open-minded approach to reinforce a sense of safety in being honest. All of this to say, Anna must be willing to take on exactly what she is asking of Christof. There cannot be a disconnect, otherwise, trust evaporates and becomes difficult to restore in the future.

5. Develop 

Christof clearly wants the chance to develop new skills. When Anna invests in supporting her team’s development, she is seen positively. Not only does it help elevate performance, but it also creates a workplace that others want to join.

Your turn

An organization that fails to give employees autonomy, challenging work, clear goals, and fair compensation, will produce a least one disengaged employee! Dissatisfied employees leave for another organization.

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views on the survey results or your work experiences during the pandemic.

Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Don Piraro

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