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The Secret to Turning Disengaged Employees into Rockstar Team Players Transforming disengaged employees into enthusiastic team players hinges on insightful assessments, effective communication, targeted recognition and proactive career development.

By Mike Szczesny Edited by Chelsea Brown

Key Takeaways

  • Addressing employee disengagement requires a proactive approach, including conducting insightful assessments, enhancing internal communication and implementing targeted recognition programs.
  • Effective leadership in crucial in fostering a culture of engagement.
  • Providing clear development paths and growth opportunities is essential to maintain motivation and focus among employees.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Employee disengagement often manifests as a lack of enthusiasm for the job, minimal contribution to meetings or a sharp decline in productivity. This disengagement can have severe consequences. According to Gallup, disengaged employees cost the world economy up to $8.8 trillion each year through lost productivity. That's 9% of global GDP. The roots of disengagement can vary but often include poor management practices, lack of meaningful recognition and unclear career advancement paths.

Rethinking engagement means viewing it as a transformative tool that can redefine workplace culture. Engagement is not about making employees work harder but about fostering an environment where they want to excel. This cultural shift can lead to marked increases in profitability, as engaged teams show higher levels of achievement.

Entrepreneurial ventures, in particular, stand to benefit immensely from an engaged workforce. Startups and small businesses thrive on innovation and agility — qualities that are inherent in highly engaged teams. For instance, Google has famously encouraged employee-driven innovation projects, leading to the creation of successful products like Gmail and AdSense.

Addressing disengagement requires a proactive approach. Entrepreneurs should start by conducting "stay interviews" to understand why employees remain at the company and what might cause them to leave. Implementing regular feedback loops and ensuring that communication is two-way can also help bridge the engagement gap.

Related: How Stay Interviews Became the Hottest Workforce-Retention Tool

Leadership plays a pivotal role in fostering a culture of engagement. Effective leaders are those who inspire, recognize and empower their employees. Recognition can be as simple as thanking an employee during a meeting or as significant as awarding them with glass trophies at annual company events. Such gestures make employees feel valued and part of the company's success.

Here are four ways companies can work to accomplish higher engagement:

1. Conduct insightful employee assessments

To address disengagement effectively, start with understanding its root causes. Entrepreneurs should conduct regular, insightful assessments that go beyond performance metrics to include employee satisfaction and engagement levels. These assessments can take the form of anonymous surveys, one-on-one interviews or focus groups.

Begin by crafting surveys that ask pointed questions about job satisfaction, work environment, management effectiveness and personal motivation. At Buffer, a social media management tool company, employees are encouraged to participate in weekly one-on-one meetings and frequent satisfaction surveys, enabling the management to gauge engagement continuously and address issues proactively.

Microsoft has revolutionized its approach to employee engagement by shifting from a rigid performance rating system to a more dynamic and personalized feedback model. The company uses regular pulse surveys and an analytics platform that allows managers to track team sentiment in real time. This data-driven approach helps leaders identify areas of disengagement early and tailor interventions to specific team needs.

For example, if a team reports lower satisfaction with work-life balance, managers can quickly implement flexible working arrangements. Microsoft's transition to this model has led to an increase in employee satisfaction and retention, demonstrating the effectiveness of using sophisticated analytics to drive engagement and positive organizational change.

2. Enhance internal communications

Clear, transparent and frequent communication is vital for engagement. Ensuring that all team members understand their roles, the significance of their work and how it contributes to the company's goals can boost engagement levels. Develop a communication plan that includes regular updates, team meetings and open Q&A sessions with leadership. Use internal platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams to maintain open lines of communication and encourage team collaboration.

At Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand, transparency is a core component of internal communication. The company holds biannual meetings to discuss financials, strategy and key decisions with all employees, ensuring that everyone feels informed and involved. Beyond these meetings, Patagonia fosters an open dialogue through regular departmental check-ins and a robust intranet system that shares updates and educational resources.

This level of openness empowers employees by providing a clear view of where the company stands and where it is headed. It encourages a culture where feedback is actively sought at all levels, reinforcing a sense of unity and shared purpose. This approach boosts morale and aligns everyone's efforts toward common goals, enhancing overall engagement.

Related: Top 10 Employee Engagement Strategies That Matter

3. Implement targeted recognition programs

Recognition is a powerful motivator. Effective recognition programs are timely, frequent and tied directly to the company's values and goals. They should celebrate both small wins and major accomplishments. Set up a structured recognition program that includes peer-to-peer recognition, management acknowledgments and formal awards like glass trophies for significant achievements. Ensure these recognitions are regular and linked to specific behaviors that align with the company's objectives.

Salesforce has implemented a comprehensive recognition system where employees earn badges and rewards for various achievements. This gamified approach creates a sense of achievement while building a supportive culture that values hard work and dedication. Employees accumulate points that can be exchanged for various rewards, ranging from gift cards to extra days off, which adds a tangible value to their daily efforts.

Additionally, Salesforce frequently spotlights outstanding employees during company-wide meetings and through internal newsletters, further enhancing the visibility of their achievements. This recognition extends beyond individual accomplishments to include team milestones, encouraging collaboration and collective effort across departments. The combination of personal incentives and public acknowledgment helps maintain high engagement levels and motivates employees to strive for continuous improvement in their roles.

4. Foster career development and growth

Career stagnation is a significant cause of disengagement. Providing clear career paths and development opportunities can help keep employees motivated and focused. Develop mentorship programs, provide access to training and certification courses, and clearly outline potential career paths within the organization. Regularly discuss career goals with employees to align their aspirations with the organization's needs.

At Amazon, career development is part of the culture. The company offers its employees up to 95% tuition reimbursement for in-demand fields regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. This program, called "Career Choice," demonstrates a commitment to employee growth, increasing engagement by showing a genuine interest in their long-term success.

Related: What Business Leaders Can Offer to Keep and Develop Employees

Turning disengaged employees into rockstar team players is essential for any business, particularly in entrepreneurial ventures where every team member's contribution is critical. By understanding the underlying causes of disengagement, redefining the approach to employee engagement and actively building a culture that promotes recognition and appreciation, entrepreneurs can transform their workforce. Now is the time for action, to integrate these strategies into your business model and watch as your disengaged employees turn into your most enthusiastic advocates.

Mike Szczesny

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Owner and vice president of EDCO Awards & Specialties

Mike Szczesny is the owner and vice president of EDCO Awards & Specialties, a dedicated supplier of employee recognition products, a unique award plaque and recognition gifts, branded merchandise and athletic awards.

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