December 23, 2016

The 3 Reasons Why Your Employees Are Disengaged


Roughly two out of every three employees are not engaged, and many of these workers are pointing their fingers at their managers or bosses. In fact, the majority of employees say their boss is the most stressful (and often worst) part of their job.

At the same time, however, we have reports of high satisfaction at work. In SHRM’s annual job satisfaction report in 2014, 86 percent of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their current job, an improvement of five percentage points from 2013.

As a boss and a hiring manager (and my very own HR consultant), I am confused. That’s because, like many, I have long correlated happiness and 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.

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, alter how I review employees and give feedback, or suddenly start treating my employees badly, I now recognize 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 themselves.

That being said, there are still things you can do to increase employee engagement. Here are three common causes of disengagement and some guidance you can offer to help your struggling workers turn the beat around:

1. They Don’t Fit the Company Culture

This is an easy mistake anyone can make, especially during a particularly long job hunt. The average job search takes 43 days. After such an arduous process, many candidates will nab the first decent paying gig they can get. On the other hand, some candidates may mistakenly believe they are cut out for corporate jobs when really they are more suited for freelance nation. Either way, we’re talking about candidates who either didn’t pay attention to cultural cues during the interview process or neglected to take the time to understand their personal work values.

What You Can Do: When recruiting, you can use a personality test or work-matching algorithm to better understand which candidates will actually work well in your professional environment. It also helps to explain thoroughly how your office operates, but ultimately, it is on the employee to know how they work best.

LookWhen an individual who is hired turns out not to be a great fit, you can use the review process and practice transparency to help them understand how they can improve their performance and become more satisfied in their position.

2. They Aren’t Taking Charge of Their Own Career

Some people make the excellent point that the “freelance nation” discussion often takes place from a position of distinct advantage. For example, we don’t talk about workplace flexibility in the context of McDonald’s or the school janitorial staff. Engagement is 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 onus on them to make sure they are engaged? Many of the factors that affect engagement revolve around things a person can work on. For example, engaged workers tend to have friends at work and feel recognized for their work.

What You Can Do: Create opportunities for employees to bond with one another. This will encourage workplace friendships and trust. Of course, many of these activities will 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 Undervalued

Thirty-seven percent of employees say their boss has failed to give credit where credit was due. This matters because, if employees feel like their recognition is being stolen by their managers, they won’t be incentivized to work as hard. On the other hand, if you do give employees credit, they will be more motivated. In fact, according to Towers Watson, 72 percent of employees are highly engaged at companies where both leaders and managers are perceived as “effective.”

What You Can Do: While some people are great at tooting their own horns, others are not. Keep track of who is doing what in order to avoid employees taking credit for things they really didn’t do or downplaying 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 acknowledgments while continuing to provide constructive feedback.

While disengagement is a huge problem in the workforce, it’s not one that leaders and managers can tackle on their own. Employees must take their own careers, their own happiness, and their own engagement levels into their own hands. That being said, you can support their efforts by encouraging them to flesh out what they value as professionals, providing tools and opportunities for them to push their own careers forward, and recognizing them when they do.

Leaders can guide employees to engagement, but they can’t necessarily make employees engaged. Do your best to empower your workers, but realize that they have some control – and some responsibility – themselves.

A version of this article originally appeared on the LinkedIn Talent Blog.

Maren Hogan is founder and CEO of Red Branch Media. You can read more of her work on Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and her blog, Marenated.

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Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the global recruitment and talent space. Hogan speaks and writes on all career and workforce related subjects. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies and SMBs around the globe. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B Marketing Agency that serves clients in the U.K., Africa, China, Israel, Europe and North America. Primarily focused on the Human Resources and Global Workforce vendors, Red Branch Media handles clients of all shapes and sizes.
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