Dealing With A Disengaged Workforce

Dealing With A Disengaged Workforce

Dealing With A Disengaged Workforce

To understand workforce ‘engagement’ better, it will help to know about ‘disengagement’. Disengagement can be best explained by the mere physical presence of the employee at work while leaving his most valuable part – his real heart and soul – elsewhere. While a disengaged workforce can play havoc with an organization’s productivity, profitability and the workplace atmosphere, a totally focused and engaged workforce can create wonders.

An “engaged” workforce is essentially one in which employees are self-motivated, feel for and are committed to achieving the goals that the organization has set for itself. An engaged employee feels responsible and works for the growth and success of the organization and is willing to go the extra mile without having to be asked to.

The process of employee engagement is crucial because only if this process is in place, will the employee put his heart and soul into the work he is doing. The positive aspects of an engaged workforce range from increased productivity, an exciting work environment, to eager and involved employees – factors resulting in higher profitability.

Discontentment spells disengagement. Disengaged employees are disinterested, often negative, suspicious, and mistrustful and can spread their discontent among the rest of the workforce. Disengaged employees cause internal differences, complain and criticize. They are delighted when other employees follow suit and feed the discontent further. The results of this can affect all aspects of the business from productivity, work environment, profitability, growth, and ultimately success.

The signs of a disengaged workforce are:

  • Groupism, formation of cliques between long-term employees and newcomers
  • High levels of stress that cause tempers to fly
  • Apathy and distrust towards the team leader or head
  • Backbiting and gossiping
  • Drop in employee morale across the organization
  • Decreased productivity
  • Fear of failure and extreme reactions because of it

All or any of the above situations over time will negatively affect an organization. Disengagement in the workforce is something that organizations should be concerned about, identify and nip in the bud. One of the primary reasons for disengagement is the dissatisfaction arising from an unhappy employee-boss relationship. Care needs to be taken to ensure development of managers and supervisors in managing people. Many companies follow the rule of promoting the senior-most employee to managerial roles without considering their skill sets in people management. Time spent with an organization should not be the only criteria for providing more responsibility. Skill set upgradation is necessary. Use training and workshops to develop skill sets that will enable them to handle and promote engagement issues well.

Skills that help a manager dispel signs of disengagement include:

  • A team-oriented approach
  • Situational leadership
  • Analytical and problem solving skills
  • Taking initiative
  • The ability to influence others

The first task is to identify managers who possess some of the above skills or at least have the potential to develop the same. Training should then be given to managers to develop the above skills that will help them increase the engagement levels in the workforce.

Do share your thoughts on the same.

View Presentation On Keeping Employees Motivated And Engaged!

  • Maria Herald

    I agree with your suggestions, however the first step has to be taken by the business itself. What practices and policies does it have in place to encourage creativity, value the contributions of its employees and provide a work environment that builds trust? What is the business doing to increase employee buy in? Employees who feel that their contributions are appreciated, valuable and relevant will be engaged.
    Managers who recognize value in the contributions of their employees and seek their assistance in creating solutions to issues facing the business will successfully build team engagement and and worker satisfaction.

  • I agree with Maria. It is the system, the way the business runs that defines the level of engagement of an employee. Unfortunately, most businesses are run in a ad hoc manner because leadership does not have a well-defined “way” or “framework” for running the business. This causes a tremendous amount of variation (and fear) in the way any organization runs.

    A framework defined and developed at the top level of the company and cascaded into the organization, will enable, prioritize, connect, and drive the execution of all work, both daily ops and execution of strategic initiatives. It will provide line of sight for every employee and measure their role in the company.

  • Michael J. Spangle

    As long as companies act in such a way as to show that they do not pay more than lip service to the concepts of Integrity and Honesty, they will have to deal with disengaged workers. If a company practices the principle of “The floggings will continue until morale improves”, they will breed discontent. The greater the disconnect between what the company says and what they do, the greater the problem.

    This does not let the worker off the hook. They need to stop seeing themselves as victime and take responsibility for both their actions and their attitudes. Contentment is a choice. If the situation they find themselves in is less than perfect, the worker has two responsibilities. The first is to work to improve it. The second is to be grateful for what is good. Managers will be more likely to work with someone who is willing to work with them, rather than always fighting against them.

  • Allen

    Look inward. People are made up of many experiences and emotions issues etc. When communicating with them always involve questions relating to home life questions pertaining to quality of experience and show personal interest. Engage with them on a personal level first. Not just “hello” or “how are you?” a little depth. Once you have a better idea of what is going on in the background then you can approach how to develop engagement and motivate it in the workplace. It is possible that the problem does not lie with the employees rather that it is a “workplace” or management style problem.

  • Julie Biddle

    I find this whole concept of engagement laughable.

    Years ago you joined an organization fresh out of school. You identified with and were loyal to the organization and you took pride in your work. You socialized with others from the company, helping to build camaraderie and teamwork. The organization provided training to help you develop and you were promoted as you gained new skills. Eventually you retired with a pension.

    Financial crises hit and the words “fired” and “layoff” were replaced with “downsizing” and “rightsizing”. Out of nowhere bunches of people were tossed. Of course the work still had to get done, so those who still had jobs, reeling from shock, had to pick up the extra workload. Lots more work, no extra time, no extra pay, and pressure to do more and more. Working hours increased, so did stress.

    Then the organization was “flattened” to remove layers of the hierarchy. A manager suddenly might have a ‘team’ of 20 instead of the 4 or 5 in the past. Low level managers had to take on Strategic Planning work that had previously been done at higher levels – leaving them less time to manage and interact with their team. In my last position I had to write my own performance plan and year end review. I got 15 minutes with my manager to go over it, and only because there was a deadline, and my manager would lose part of his bonus if it was late. Managers used to spend time with their staff discussing these topics throughout the year.

    Somewhere along the way we lost the ability to made decisions and set priorities. There is so much to be done, and all of it is urgent. If the employee can’t decide which urgent task should be done first the manager is likely to say that all of them are important. That’s if you can catch the manager between meetings.

    Employees are routinely given smart phones so they can be “in touch”. Basically you’re now tied to work 24/7/365. You take the thing home, check in on weekends, take it on vacation. You get an electric toothbrush so you have one hand free to read your email.

    Now, after all of this, organizations look around and see that their employees aren’t engaged; they’re not giving their all to the organization. Well, you get back what you give.

    If you want employees to be engaged, return the favour. Set appropriate workloads – drop the most trivial tasks. Set priorities so employees can focus their effort on the most important tasks instead of guessing. Give managers time to engage with their staff, and give everyone some real downtime so they can rest.

    While you’re at it, put some money in the training budget to invest in employees and managers. Teach them Time Management skills that will help them stay organized and productive, Communication skills that will help them relate to one another, and Conflict Management skills so they know how to handle differences of opinion.

    When employees are overworked, under constant pressure, tied to the office 24/7/365, have few opportunities to develop their skills, and managers who are overloaded, unavailable, and just don’t have time to coach or mentor their staff, is it any wonder that employees are not engaged?

    Toss in the fact that most organizations no longer promote from within, and you’ve got a very mobile workforce. Why be engaged when you’re only going to be there a year or two?


  • Engagement for us is key to a happy workforce and we use a simple skill/will matrix to assess where an individual is. Disengagement occurs most frequently in the high skill low will quadrant. Dependent on the quadrant that they agree they are in with their supervisor depends on how they are encouraged to re-engage! Know your people and this simple quadrant really is a great tool to start some honest appraisal conversations.

  • If you have a disengaged workforce the place I would start is with the management of the organisation. How have they failed to inspire?…