The 3 Reasons Why Your Employees Are Disengaged

June 1, 2016

Roughly three out of four employees are not engaged. And, many of them are pointing the finger at their manager or boss. In fact, the majority of employees say their boss is the most stressful (and often worst) part of their job.

But, at the same time, we have high reports of satisfaction at work. According to SHRM’s annual Job Satisfaction report in 2014, 86% of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their current job, an improvement of five percentage points since 2013.

As a boss and a hiring manager (and let’s face it, my very own HR consultant) I am confused. And that’s because, like many, I have long correlated happiness or satisfaction with engagement. As a result, I did what I could to be a great boss, believing that my focus should be solely on my employees and their happiness at work.

But recently, I realized, that engagement and happiness are NOT the same thing. I’ve written elsewhere about this phenomenon and while I won’t change my compensation practices, how I review employees and give feedback, or suddenly start treating my employees badly, I realized a simple and freeing truth: If an employee is unsatisfied, disengaged or unproductive, it’s not entirely their boss’s fault. They are partially responsible.

However, there are still things you can do to increase employee engagement. Here are three reasons for employee disengagement and guidance you can offer to help them turn the beat around.

1. They don't fit the company culture

This is an easy mistake anyone can make during a particularly long job hunt. The average job search takes 43 days, so the new hire decided to nab the first decent paying gig they could get. Or, they truly thought they were cut out for a corporate job, when really they are more suited for freelance nation. Either way, they didn’t pay attention to cultural cues during the interview process or neglected taking the time to understand personal work values

What you can do: When recruiting, using a personality test or work matching algorithm is a pretty good idea, simply to understand who will actually work well in your professional realm. Explaining thoroughly how your office works helps, but it ultimately is on the employee to know how they work best. But when an individual who is hired and turns out to not be a great fit, use the review process and practice transparency to help them understand what can make them better at and more satisfied within the position. 

2. They aren’t taking charge of their own career

While some have an excellent point that the freelance nation discussion is mostly had from a place of distinct advantage (we’re not talking about “work-flex” at McDonald’s or for the school janitorial staff), engagement is also not something we ascribe to hourly or minimum wage jobs.*

If a worker is in a field they intend to make a career, then isn’t the auspice on them to...engage? Many of the facets of engagement revolve around things one CAN work on. For example, more engaged workers have friends at work and also cite recognition for their work.

What you can do: Creating opportunities for employees to bond will encourage team friendships and trust. Of course, many of these things have to happen outside of work hours so it’s on the employees to participate. The same goes for projects. Offer opportunities to team members, but realize that some people will never be up for the challenge.

3. They feel under valued

37% of employees say their boss failed to give credit when credit was due. And this matters because if employees feel like their recognition is being stolen by their manager, they won’t be incentivized to work as hard. In turn if you do give them credit, they will be more motivated. In fact, according to Towers Watson, in companies where both leaders and managers are perceived by employees as effective, 72% of employees are highly engaged.

What you can do: While some people are great at tooting their own horn, others are not. So, keep track of who is doing what in order to avoid having employees take credit for things they really didn’t do or downplay their own contributions. Sometimes, your biggest contributors are the quietest and it’s up to you to make sure they are recognized. But remember, credit loses its value if everyone gets it all the time – even if they didn’t really do very much. Be specific with your acknowledgements and continue to provide constructive feedback as well.

While being disengaged at work is a problem in our workforce, it’s not one that can be corrected without employees taking their careers, their happiness and yes, their own engagement levels into consideration. But, you can help by encouraging them to flesh out what they value as a professional, providing tools and opportunities to push their own careers forward and calling them out when they do. Just remember, leaders can guide employees to engagement, not necessarily make them engaged. Do your best to empower your workers, but realize that the worker of 2016 can control some of those elements themselves.

*Image from Mad Men

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