How to Prevent Disengaged Employees From Killing Your Bottom Line
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
Every employer loves the eager spirit that comes with a new employee. The struggle comes later, in the post-honeymoon period. As months go on, even top talent can be at risk of disengagement, a serious -- not to mention costly -- problem for companies. A recent Engagement Institute study suggests that workers who aren’t engaged collectively drain American corporations of up to $550 billion annually.
Is it an epidemic? Not quite, but it’s a significant issue that organizations must face head-on. Without a strong company culture that meets employees' needs, the most amazing venture can fail to meet its goals and potential. According to Leigh Branham, author of “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave,” those fundamental requirements include a desire for trust, hope, a sense of worth and a feeling of competency. An employee engagement project from Custom Insight echoes Branham’s findings and goes a step further to add respect and purpose to the mix.
Rather than wait for a disengagement crisis or an exodus of key players, a business needs to map out a plan to combat workplace ennui. Otherwise, they could find themselves floundering after an erosion of their core ecosystems.
Spotting workplace disengagement early.
Will you know workplace disengagement when you see it? Managers often overlook or misinterpret the indicators that employees are checking out, starting with “sick days.” Research from CareerBuilder indicates that more than one-third of workers have called out when they weren’t the slightest bit ill.
Does the office look emptier on Mondays and Fridays? This might also be a sign you have unhappy employees on your hands. They likely won’t share this feeling with you directly, but a brief companywide survey aimed at identifying internal changes might get to the heart of the matter and increase morale.
Another sign of disengaged workers is avoidance. If you receive consistent silent treatment from employees who once were excited and communicative, take it seriously. If someone on your team fits this description, privately ask the withdrawn employee how management can better support his career path. Suggest a concise plan that gives him something to look forward to.
Of course, there can be other subtle and overt signals that disengagement is running rampant throughout a department or company: outright hostility, subpar deliverables, inability to celebrate wins. The key is reading between the lines and proactively addressing potential issues.
Building a stronger company culture.
Without an intervention on management’s part, disengaged workers can lead to subpar customer service and therefore dissatisfied customers. Uninterested personnel can skew a company’s priorities, forcing supervisors to spend time dealing with disgruntled team members rather than ratcheting up product quality, generating leads or performing other integral duties.
Want a silver lining to this dark cloud? You can patch this wound with a few measures:
1. Create comprehensive career paths with all employees.
To enhance morale, motivation and job satisfaction, be certain all employees have the perspective that comes from a well-defined, personalized two-year plan. Such plans should map out avenues to reach each worker’s career objectives, such as moving up in the company, receiving commissions and bonuses, achieving certifications or mastering new skills. Currently, only about half of companies provide career development to their employees, according to an APA survey; in other words, it’s a prime place to make positive changes.
At UE.co, we foster the development of two-year employee plans that provide avenues toward greater responsibility and higher pay grades. Every six months, managers go over these plans with their direct reports to ensure everyone is on track. Like the 80 percent of employees in an IBM study who reported increased engagement when their work and their employers’ cultures and visions aligned, our team members find having corporate-approved plans motivational and satisfying.
2. Hold measurable daily and weekly result meetings for every position.
Every morning, each of our departments holds a scrum specific to its team style. These meetings aim to communicate the status of individual and group goals, as well as explore any roadblocks standing in the way of achievements. By verbalizing what’s occurring, employees can build rapport with one another and share ideas.
A byproduct of these daily meetings has been an increase in goals being met or exceeded. In essence, workers can be more efficient because they’re operating in tandem. Who needs finger-pointing when someone’s struggling? Research from the University of California, Santa Barbara shows that when employee performance is ranked in teams, organizations are less likely to have competitive cultures. Promoting a culture that celebrates collaboration among departments not only will provide an enjoyable workplace, but will also result in better decision-making.
3. Provide a setting for transparent conversations across verticals, departments and positions.
Does having a completely transparent working life seem detrimental to conducting business? Cloud data management firm Rubrik shows otherwise. Bipul Sinha, one of the founders, operates under a policy of truthfulness above all else. Employees attend board meetings and participate as equals. All voices receive equal status at Rubrik. Sinha says such cultural integrity “expands your thinking.” Research from TinyPulse supports this, citing an advantage for companies that encourage the happiness of their employees through transparency.
We’ve adapted this model this ourselves, eliciting compliments and concerns regularly from the team. The response has not only triggered improvements, but employees at every level now know their beliefs and observations matter.
Can you stop every worker from lapsing into disengagement? Regrettably, no. However, as an executive, you have the power -- and the obligation -- to put measures in place to drastically reduce the likelihood that your revenue goals will take a hit from a widespread workplace disconnect.