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Employee Disengagement and What Causes It

April 30, 2022

employees looking at a laptop together

Keeping your employees connected to your company is a priority. After all, retention is key to ensuring your company is not just functional but thriving. However, one of the mistakes too many businesses make is assuming turnover itself should be the focus of solutions. The fact of the matter is, most problems leading to turnover begin long before employees decide to quit.

One of the most important focuses here is your level of employee engagement. This isn’t just about avoiding worker exodus. It’s an issue that affects almost every level of your operations. When there is substantial employee disengagement throughout your company, the high costs of turnover are likely to be the least of your worries. The good news is that you’re not entirely powerless to act.

Let’s take a moment to examine employee disengagement and what causes it. We’ll also look at some measures that can be instrumental in mitigating its impact on your company.

What is Employee Disengagement?

Employee disengagement is not taken seriously enough by many businesses. This is usually because these companies don’t really have a good understanding of what the issue is. It is not simply the fact that workers are not happy in their jobs and are potentially looking for a new position elsewhere. The problem is far more holistically damaging than this.

The core of employee disengagement is that workers’ unhappiness leads them to gradually disconnect from the business. This disconnection takes various forms. Disengaged employees become less committed to achieving good results. They minimize their relationships with their colleagues and leadership. In some cases, such mental and emotional distance makes it easier for workers to act in unethical ways during their working practices. 

It may be the case that individual disconnections are indicative of the worker’s declining relationship with the business. There can also be forms of more widespread employee disengagement that can be indicators of something deeply wrong within the culture of the business. Each has the potential to impact employees’ lives and disrupt the trajectory of the company.

What is the Impact of Disengagement?

Disengaged employees can be disruptive in a general sense. However, it’s important to understand where some of the specific issues can lie. This helps company leaders and human resources (HR) professionals spot potential symptoms and take action.

Some of the key areas in which disengagement can impact businesses include:

  • Reduced Productivity

Perhaps the most immediate symptom and impact of disengagement is a drop in productivity. This may begin with workers being slightly slower than usual. But it can very quickly escalate to disrupt the quantity and quality of employees’ output. The issue can be so problematic that one study found disengagement can cost companies up to 34% of an employee’s annual salary. This is bad enough should a single worker become disconnected from the business. But multiple employees can cause a level of loss of productivity cost that most companies would struggle to sustain for very long.

  • Less Innovation

Innovation in various areas of your business can be the key to giving you the competitive edge. However, innovation is not part of the job description of many roles. Your workers apply their best outside-of-the-box thinking because they believe in what your company does and are keen to be a significant influencer of shared success. However, these are not the actions of a disengaged employee. The less your workers feel committed to your organization, the less likely they are to innovate on your behalf. After all, if they don’t care about your business, they have little incentive to push beyond the minimum required functions of their role.

  • Colleague Disconnection

Strong employee relationships are vital to a thriving enterprise. Workers who feel deeper connections with one another are powerfully engaged toward achieving results. However, disengaged employees tend to struggle to build and maintain meaningful colleague relationships. Indeed, they may be reluctant to continue relating on anything other than the most basic collegial basis. This goes further than meaning the team and a single colleague mutually miss out on one another’s company. It can cause serious conflicts that have domino effects on worker wellbeing, team unity, and productivity. Deterioration of team morale is one of the key indicators of wider employee disengagement.

What are the Primary Causes of Disengagement?

Often, the best way to mitigate the potential for employee disengagement is to better understand its causes. This allows you to implement measures that prevent it from arising in the first place. Though, if symptoms appear, it also helps your HR department and leadership better pinpoint the root.

There are various factors to consider, but some of the common causes of employee disengagement include:

  • Ineffectual Leadership

Each worker has their own talents and skills. However, this has limited impact on the company if employees don’t feel they are being directed by positive leadership. Employees can become easily disengaged if they aren’t led by professionals that are organized, authentic, communicative, supportive, and inspiring. This can be particularly problematic if the member of leadership is experiencing disengagement themselves. After all, there is little incentive for workers to give their all if they can’t see the same being demonstrated by managers and executives. Ineffectual leadership is a surefire route to the more disruptive forms of widespread disengagement.

  • Poor Colleague Relationships

We’ve previously discussed poor colleague relationships being a symptom of employee disengagement. However, this can also be a cause. Your workers want to have strong and positive relationships with their colleagues. They spend a significant amount of their time with the people they work alongside, after all. When there are issues here or significant conflicts start to arise within groups, this can lead workers to become gradually more disengaged. Indeed, this can be especially challenging when keeping remote or hybrid workers engaged, due to the level of isolation they can experience.

  • Lack of Recognition

Your employees exercise a significant amount of skill and commitment every day. No business has achieved success that isn’t primarily the result of its workers. Make no mistake that contemporary workers recognize this and rightly expect a certain amount of recognition for their efforts. If your company overlooks the contributions of workers and fails to highlight their hand in your company’s achievements, this can lead to employee disengagement. This could be individual workers who feel they aren’t receiving praise or encouragement from their direct managers. It could also be a more widespread problem in which your workforce isn’t receiving the pay rises, benefits, or rewards comparable to their efforts.

How Can You Mitigate Employee Disengagement?

Employee disengagement is a complex problem. As such, it requires continuous attention. Your first step toward mitigating its effects is to maintain a commitment to seeking your workforce’s insights on the matter. This should include producing regular employee engagement surveys. These should include questions about overall drivers of worker disengagement, but also consider factors that are tailored to your specific organization. This is a highly visible way of showing workers that you care about their views and about strengthening your relationships with them.

Beyond this, there needs to be a commitment to understanding each of your workers. They are individuals with their own needs, ambitions, and challenges. These aspects will feed into workers’ ability to remain engaged in their positions. Immediate supervisors and managers need to make regular efforts to talk to team members about how they are feeling and what support they may need. This not only helps employees to feel there is a sense of genuine care, but also allows managers to spot potential issues early on. 

Indeed, members of higher leadership need to seek to make connections with workers of all levels. This includes providing individual praise as part of wider recognition efforts. Even simply having casual conversations regularly and building genuine relationships can go a long way toward limiting disconnection. Wherever possible, provide mentorships and company resources to support workers’ goals and interests.

To Conclude

Employee disengagement can be a disruptive influence on businesses of all sizes. Whether this is individual workers becoming disconnected from their role or widespread dissatisfaction, the results can be damaging. It’s important to recognize how varied the symptoms and causes of employee disengagement are. This knowledge can help you spot and manage issues alongside implementing general employee engagement best practices. If you’re uncertain what measures can help you better understand and encourage employee engagement, you can book a free 30 minute consultation to discuss how it might fit into your business strategy.