June 13, 2018

5 Reasons Your Employees Are Disengaged — and How Microfeedback Can Help


Employee engagement: It’s a term we all use, but the definition can be kind of hazy. There is good reason for this — namely, what is good for one company may be a detriment to another. Engagement also varies from employee to employee, both in terms of what gets them engaged and in how their engagement manifests. The cranky sales guy who vigorously debates your new policies may be more engaged than the person who complies with everything but seethes silently.

HR is often tasked with increasing employee engagement, but overall engagement rates have barely budged since Gallup started measuring them. So, what are HR pros and managers to do? Is ~30 percent engagement as good as it gets?

It’s tough to believe we can’t do better, considering that actively disengaged employees cost the US $450 – $550 billion annually in lost productivity. Furthermore, organizations with engaged employees outperform those with low employee engagement by as much as 202 percent.

Those are some serious reasons to start paying attention to the engagement of your employees. Here are some reasons why your employees may not be engaged, as well as some advice on how to fix the problem:

1. Employees Receive Little to No Feedback or Direction From Their Managers

You can easily solve this by building consistent microfeedback into your performance management plan. Microfeedback is a fancy way of saying “talk to your employees.” Constructive criticism and accolades are both easier to give and get when you hold regular performance conversations with employees.

Solution: Invest in a performance management system that can help you plan and track feedback, set reminders for conversations, and bring other managers and employees into conversations when needed. Once you’ve built a habit of giving and receiving performance feedback yourself, you can train other managers on how to give it to their employees as well.

2. Employees Have No Friends on Their Teams

Office friendships — or lack thereof — may impact employee engagement more than you think. According to an O.C. Tanner survey, “75 percent of employees who have a best friend at work say they feel they’re able to take anything on, compared to 58 percent of those who don’t,” and “72 percent of employees who have a best friend at work are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 54 percent of those who don’t.”

Solution: Potlucks, birthday parties, book clubs, softball teams, and similar activities are all fun and easy ways to get your employees socializing. You can also use feedback as an opportunity to help employees build stronger bonds. Allow employees to give one another praise. This will reinforce positive workplace behaviors and maybe even lead to a new friendship or two.

3. Employees Feel No Connection to Company Values

If your employees don’t understand your mission, vision, and values, you’re doing something very wrong.

Solution: Attach both the accolades and criticisms you give during feedback conversations to specific company values. This will give employees examples of what company values look like in action and help employees align their own behaviors with the company’s overall vision.

4. Employees Feel Underappreciated and Unrecognized for Their Work

Have you ever completed a particularly difficult project at work only to have no one even notice your effort? Your employees have moments like that as well.

Solution: Send regular praise to employees when they meet goals or accomplish difficult things. Using a performance management system can help you keep track of the praise and send it more easily. You may also want to invest in a rewards system of some kind so that employees earn tangible perks for their hard work.

5. Employees and Managers Barely Communicate 

In every workforce, employees are at risk of disconnecting from one another. It can happen in an office where everyone shares the same space, and it’s an even more ominous threat for remotely distributed teams.

Solution: Improve communication with video chats (because email can be misunderstood), daily check-ins with your team (in person or digitally), and a transparent policy that allows team members to express when they don’t understand something or need additional assistance.

A version of this article originally appeared on the iRevü blog.

Michael Heller is the CEO and founder of iRevü.

Michael Heller has 20+ years of experience in strategic human resources, talent management, and technology consulting. As an HR executive at Washington Consulting, Digital Management, and Deltek, Michael led teams to develop innovative human capital management programs and initiatives. Previously, Michael held a variety of positions at American Management Systems and Booz Allen Hamilton where he executed on talent acquisition, total rewards, performance management, strategic HR partnerships, and philanthropy strategies. Michael serves the community as a board member of Teardrops to Rainbows, an organization dedicated to supporting the families of children with cancer. Michael has a master's degree in human resources from Georgetown University and earned his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Connecticut. Michael resides in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with his wife and daughter. He enjoys cooking and college basketball.