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Employees require a certain amount of energy and motivation to remain engaged and feel fully committed in the workplace. According to Gallup’s 2017 report entitled State of the Global Workplace, only 15% of employees are found to be engaged in the workplace.

Poor engagement leads to attendance and retention issues. According to new research of more than 600 US businesses with 50-500 employees, 63.3% of companies say retaining employees is actually harder than hiring them. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 52% of American employees were disengaged, with another 18% actively disengaged. That 18% alone costs the United States between $450 billion to $550 billion every year due to a lack of productivity. In other words: you can’t afford a disengaged team. 

Yet, 71% of executives say that employee engagement is critical to their company’s success. When employees are engaged, they adopt the vision, values, and purpose of the organization. They become passionate contributors, innovating problem solvers, and stunning colleagues. And engaged employees outperform their peers that are not engaged. Overall, companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable.

 

What Causes Employees to Become Disengaged?

According to Gallup, employee engagement isn’t binary. There are three classifications: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. Engaged employees are easy to spot as are the miserable, dissident, counter-culture folks who are actively disengaged. The silent majority who are not engaged make up over 50% of the American workforce and are adept at blending in with the rest of the herd.

Some things are apparent–-absenteeism, low energy, bad attitude, frequent use of social media, lack of enthusiasm–-but few disengaged employees start by staging a coup from their cubicle. Laziness, apathy, and dissidence are also symptoms of more significant problems that can affect employee performance. By the time many of those symptoms surface, remediation to improve employee engagement might be impossible.

Poor employee engagement and retention are leadership issues, and it takes leadership to fix them. That process begins with knowing what employees need that they aren’t getting. Here are some of the most common issues:

 

Lack of Autonomy 

Employees want to do what they were hired to do. Managers who feel the need to manage over the shoulders of their employees without allowing them to think for themselves and make their own decisions limit employees’ chances to perform at their highest level. Managers often rob employees of their achievements by trying to control how they do their jobs. As a result, managers unnecessarily load themselves up with work that should be left to the employees if they step back and allow them to deliver. Micromanaging makes employees feel that they are not trusted to do their work, so they stop contributing. When their ideas and solutions are dismissed, criticized, or rejected, the employee no longer feels connected. They don’t think they can make a difference.

If your smartest and most talented employees are not allowed to make decisions on their own, if everything must be decided from top-down, they’ll quickly lose motivation. Empower them to make decisions and have faith in their judgment. Ask them questions that help them understand the problem and let them solve it.

 

Lack of Professional Development 

When is the last time that quiet employee shared an article of interest about your company, marketplace trends, or exciting research dealing with their role? When is the last time they shared anything at all? Curiosity is a good sign that an employee cares about the bigger picture. They have a high level of work motivation and want to learn and grow in their role. When you encourage learning and growth as a company value and employees don’t share your enthusiasm, it’s time to take a closer look at their employee engagement status.

The chance for professional development on the job is especially important to the younger generations. According to a 2016 Gallup survey, up to 87% of Millennials consider development in a job important. Opportunities for learning and development are an instant boost to employee motivation—especially among the best. Employees like to feel that they are expanding and refining their skills. Providing opportunities for people to attain new knowledge and share it with others is one of the best ways to revitalize a stagnant workplace. When employees feel “stuck” in their jobs, they are unable to voice where they would like to go within the company, and they are not given the opportunity to improve their skills (i.e., through mentorship, training, etc.).

Training allows employees to improve their skills or earn new ones to help them move up within the organization. No training shows a lack of trust and value in the individual.

 

Unrealistic Workloads

It’s important to keep expectations and demands reasonable. If your employees feel pressured to work longer, stay later, and work most weekends, they will become disillusioned, stressed, and lack motivation. On the other hand, an employee whose workload is too light or not varied enough may quickly lose interest. Set reasonable, realistic expectations and check-in from time to time to make sure workloads are still where they should be. Typically, the result of poor task delegation leaves some employees overburdened, overworked, and unsatisfied. This is particularly true if their hard efforts go unrecognized.

If your workplace doesn’t honor work-life balance, even the most enthusiastic employees will burn out before you know it. Encourage time off, flexible work options, and other solutions to keep employees happy and focused.

 

Lack of Communication

Communicate with your employees and do it often. Clear communication throughout the organization makes for an efficient workplace, but it also has a significant impact on employee morale and confidence. When you are not communicating with your employees, employees are often entirely unaware of how well they are performing, but they are unsure of their actual job roles. Leaders that build cultures of innovation excel at communicating effectively to all their employees.

The employees of the twenty-first century want transparency. This includes having contact with senior leadership, being kept in the loop about future development and goals, and so on.

 

Lack of Recognition and Reward 

Though most leaders admit that recognition on the job is essential, they confess that they don’t regularly acknowledge employees for their exceptional and dedicated work, or worse–accept the accolades for themselves rather than acknowledging the team. A wide array of employee engagement surveys have been administered and have revealed the overall dissatisfaction employees say they experience on the job because they feel taken for granted. They start out doing their best, but over time with hardly any acknowledgment of their contributions to the organization’s success, they stop trying. 

You might just have an introvert on your hands. Some people feel their batteries recharge when they have their own space. But when the entire company or specific teams are experiencing a win, and a select few show no excitement or celebration, that’s an employee engagement issue. 

 

Lack of Trust in Leadership

According to Gallup, when employees don’t trust organizational leadership, their chances of being engaged are only one-in-twelve. Employees who have lost confidence in management have no real commitment to the organization. They don’t protect the brand. They don’t defend management’s decisions. They won’t try to support management’s vision. They will develop an “us-versus-them” attitude and allow a deep and vast chasm to grow between them and leadership. They withdraw and withhold their ideas, their presence at times, and most certainly, their best work. They become bitter and disconnected. They eventually stop trusting in all areas of the organization, not just in the one area that was compromised. 

 

Feeling Undervalued

Employees who feel that their efforts are not recognized or appreciated will soon begin to lose energy and commitment. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate successes and give credit where it’s due. Try to make sure that every achievement and effort is rewarded, even if it’s just with a simple thank you.

69% of employees say they’d work harder if they were better appreciated. Lack of constructive feedback, recognition, and one-on-one time are critical traits of poor management. Employees who feel valued will continue to work hard to impress leadership. Those who are not recognized as a contributor will eventually stop trying. 

 

Unhealthy Activities

How often does an employee go to the break room for a coffee or a snack? How often do they head out for a cigarette? Of course, your employee may just be hungry, tired, or addicted to nicotine. Still, sometimes people over-indulge in unhealthy behaviors to fill a void in their personal or professional lives. People who are genuinely motivated by purpose often derive fulfillment by merely working diligently at their desks. They may even have to be reminded by a grumbling belly that they haven’t eaten lunch yet.

 

What Can Leaders Do About Disengagement?

As leaders, you are responsible for employee well-being. You are there to guide, encourage, and inspire. How can you do that? Communication. Connecting. Continuous feedback moving in both directions. If you think that your employees are unhappy primarily because they want to earn more, you may want to think again. Leaders are often surprised that their best employees are demotivated and even more surprised when they leave. However, if the issues listed above aren’t being handled well, it’s only expected.

PayScale conducted research to discover the formula for a winning company culture and found that extrinsic factors–including pay–only go so far in motivating people. Instead, an individual’s outlook on their company and whether they feel appreciated in their role matter most. In fact, changing jobs isn’t all about the money, either, as 74% of younger employees would accept a pay cut for a chance to work at their ideal job, and 23% of those seeking a job wouldn’t need a pay increase to take a new position.

The number one reason employees stop caring about their organization is that they no longer feel like their work serves a purpose. They have no idea how their tasks contribute to key organizational objectives because no one has bothered to tell them what the company’s priorities and goals are or even recognized them for a job well done. This is due to the organization’s leaders not telling their employees the story of why their business exists and the purpose the business serves. Oftentimes leaders believe they are too busy to take the time to recognize their employees. These leaders’ employees may be able to recite the organization’s mission and values by heart. Yet, the values don’t ring true to them because they don’t see leaders behaving in a manner consistent with the brand’s stated values.

In workplaces that value open communication and feedback, especially between employees and their managers, issues, and frustrations quickly surface. Instead of festering and eventually leading to disengagement, managers can offer support. Employees are more likely to trust leadership, building relationships where people are more forthcoming and willing to ask for help.

Problems in the workplace begin when people don’t have a clear direction from leadership. They are not placed in roles aligned with their strengths or where the outcomes of work feed their souls. According to Forbes, employees like to use their strengths. For example, a strong creative contributor should not be head of sales. 

Managers must ask questions to find out what the key to employee motivation is and what employees want from their jobs or personal lives. This can be as simple as a new stapler, or as complex as creating a telework situation to finish their degree or start a family.

One of the best ways to keep employees engaged is by asking employees to share their ideas. When those ideas are implemented, they share the employee’s triumphs with the whole team or company. They let everyone see the difference that was made. A significant deterrent to employee engagement is when the company either lacks values and purpose, or those phrases have just been written down somewhere and are no longer alive in the organizational culture. Leaders should act like inclusive coaches. A leader’s job is to inspire everyone to win, achieve a larger purpose, and integrate their ideas.

Disengagement may be an epidemic in the American workplace, but improving communication in the workplace is the key to increasing employee engagement. When it comes down to it, many of us are willing to let down a boss who is a stranger at a company where we are just pawns in their game. But how many of us are willing to let down the people we care about when we are trusted equals in an enterprise where outcomes truly matter?

In a major long-term study, Forbes revealed that companies with the best corporate cultures that encouraged all-around leadership initiatives and highly appreciated their employees saw a 682% increase in revenue for both customers and owners. Further, 47% of people actively looking for a new job pinpoint company culture as the main reason for wanting to leave. So, if you’re going to improve both employee retention and profitability, promoting company culture should be one of your business priorities. 

 

If you’re ready to reap the benefits of employee engagement, reach out to our team, we’re here to help you grow.

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