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Re-engaging Employees

As it is with life, the most important battle in business is against cynicism and alienation. Cynicism and alienation break up the interpersonal union and make order difficult to maintain. Alienation is a condition of many employees who become themselves detached from the goals and products of the organization they work for. Employees are alienated when the rewards offered by work are unavailable, less motivating, and they begin to seek their rewards elsewhere. The motivational disorder creating alienation (disengagement) in the workplace is an organism that attacks the rewards mechanism. In disengaged employees, the intangible rewards of work have ceased to operate.

Extent of disengagement:

The Gallup Management Journal publishes a semi-annual Employment Engagement Index. The most recent U.S. results indicate these statistics on employee engagement every CEO should know:

  • Only 29 percent of employees feel actively engaged in their jobs.
  • 54 percent of employees are not engaged. “These employees have ‘checked-out,’ sleepwalking through their workday and putting time–but not passion–into their work.”
  • 17 percent of employees are actively disengaged. “These employees are busy acting out their unhappiness, undermining what their engaged co-workers are trying to accomplish.”

Similar results were found in a Willis Towers Perrin 2012 Workforce Survey which included 32,000 employees.

Both surveys portray the low levels of employee engagement as a crisis in the U.S. economy. Willis Towers Perrin summarize their results by asking,

“are [employers] at a critical tipping point in their ability to sustain engagement over time? And if they are, what actions can they take to turn the tide, given the significant implications of declining engagement on productivity and performance?”

The Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report (hbr_achievers_report_sep13.pdf) of 550 executives’ survey responses found that top executives in corporations tend to deny the problem of disengagement. The vast majority of middle managers, much closer to the daily experience of rank-and-file employees say that the majority of employees are not highly engaged.

The Gallup meta-analysis of survey study (2012) or 49,928 work units (nearly 1.4 million employees) found that when employees are engaged they are productive, achieve corporate success, perform best, tend to remain with the job with less shrinkage, absenteeism, fewer accidents, and fewer quality defects.

Companies with more engaged employees have higher earnings per share, outperform their competition, and recovered from the recession faster.

How to avoid employee disengagement:

The data do not suggest that disengagement is a trait of individual employees. The data suggest that disengagement is systemic in the way the organization operates. Disengagement is the creation of organizations.

Studies of companies with high rates of disengagement find that most of the onus falls on management style and the relationship between managers and their employees. Managers and supervisors who control the motivational system of rewards are largely the keys to controlling disengagement. Interviews of those who leave jobs almost always cite their relationship to direct managers as a primary reason for leaving.

Engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction. Many employees can find satisfaction in activities that do not further the interests of the organization. Engaged employees are those who identify with company goals and perceive themselves as having an active and meaningful role in achieving them. Disengagement is disconnection.

  • Each employee in an organization should have a clearly defined role with sufficient power and authority to fulfill that role.
  • Managers have to recognize the contributions of the employees who answer to them.
  • Managers have to provide regular supportive but honest feedback about performance.
  • Recognition of performance and acknowledgement of the skills necessary to achieve the employees goals should be part of regular supervisory sessions.
  • Employees need to be treated as team players. They should not be denied useful information and jobs should not be so narrowly defined for them they are blocked from participation and knowledge of where they are situated in the organization goal structure.

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