Spotting Disengaged Employees and Making Them Engaged

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Engagement is a kind of switched-on or connected feeling with task, role and company where an employee makes effort from his/her heart and mind for the best performance.
 
--By Purna Man Shakya
 
Creating an engaged workforce gives companies a competitive advantage. In order to create such workforce, companies should differentiate disengagements from engagements and make a serious effort to transform disengagements into engagements.  
 
Engagement Vs Disengagement
Engagement is a kind of switched-on or connected feeling with task, role and company where an employee makes effort from his/her heart and mind for the best performance. Thus, an engaged employee is one who is committed to, fascinated by, and attracted to the work. When employees are engaged, they care about the company’s future and are willing to go beyond the call of duty in order to help their organization exceed achievements. Engaged employees are cognitively vigilant and connected to the organization. Hard and smart employees have high engagement rates. On the other hand, disengagement is a feeling of switched off. Thus, disengaged employees are typically employees who were once high performers but, for one reason or another, they become uninterested in the job or organization they work for. As a result, their productivity decreases and negativity increases. And their poor attitude spreads like a virus throughout the organization. 
 
What causes disengagement?
There are a number of reasons which make employees disengaged. Some of them are listed below:
• Perceived unfairness of reward and recognition Vs effort; 
• Employees don't see the link with the sense of what they do at work and what they perceive as meaningful for their life;
• Mismatch between job nature and personality traits and interests;
• Blocked progression; overlapping responsibilities;
• Employees don't see or understand the link between their work and the purpose of the organization and the importance of their small contribution;
• Corporate incongruence i.e. disconnection between what is said (JD) and what is done; 
• Tiredness, stress and overwhelm;
• Not seeing things getting better and being paralyzed by uncertainty and change; 
• Employees not having a clue about the meaning of their lives;
• Organization not making timely evaluation or evaluation system not perceived as fair by employees and boss lacking team building skills and attitudes i.e. bad boss;
• Employees not briefed well about the task to be performed and are lost in work all the time;
• Lack of trust between supervisor and employee;
• Lack of inspiration by management;
• Improper induction; new employees facing difficulty in adapting to the organization culture; 
• Discouraging physical layout structure of the office.
 
How to spot disengaged employees? 
Disengaged employees generally exhibit some common behaviours which are listed below: 
1. Constantly complaining: Disengaged employees are constantly dissatisfied with their current situation. They may not agree with some of the things going on, or there could be a deeper issue that is being masked. They generally have an unjustified hatred for management.
2. Makes excuses, lacks enthusiasm: Disengaged employees lack enthusiasm to complete tasks or participating with the team. They often make excuses to delay tasks which can seriously hurt teamwork.
3. Not helping others: Disengaged employees tend to be on their own. So, when the time comes to offer help, more often than not, they choose not to do so. It’s not that they don’t like the people around them; they don’t want to take the time to offer anyone help because they feel better doing their own things.
4. Leaves and gossip: A disengaged employee will tend to gossip and spread bad vibes around the office. S/he arrives late, takes long breaks, and leaves early and is also disobedient with frequent absenteeism.
5. Lying: They lie about getting an assignment done. The mix of lying and making excuses can easily destroy an office. 
6. Know-it-all: There’s nothing worse than a person who is talented and tends to act like s\he is above everybody. Having a know-it-all attitude can seriously damage the workplace. Such employees ruffle feathers and upset others.
7. Independent and isolation: When disengaged employees try to be independent and do things on their own, it is bad news for everybody. They are probably not getting that much work done and spending their time loafing around. If an employee has been very social and personable in the past and is now becoming isolated, s/he may be disengaged. 
8. Irresponsible: Constant irresponsible behavior is common with such people. 
9. No initiative: Disengaged employees neither take initiatives nor take the reins of a project and be a leader in office. They are ok with blending in and often do not mind not having a voice. An office being a community of people, disengaged employees will bring down the team sooner or later. 
10.  Lacking curiosity, evading meetings: Disengaged employees will take things as they are and do what they’re told without showing any curiosity. They continually evade meetings.
11. No growth: Disengaged employees do not have motivation to grow within their company and do not make the most out of their position.
12. Distracted: Disengaged employees are more prone to getting distracted and losing focus while at work.
 
Transforming Disengaged Employees 
"A rotten apple can destroy the whole basket." Disengaged employees do not only affect office morale, they can affect production and profits. So, there is an urgent need for the HR department to spot the disengaged employees and start strategizing engagement initiatives for them so that all employees stay motivated and interested in their jobs. However, an actively disengaged employee always sees the organization's initiatives negatively. If such employees do not improve, HR department may need to consider written warnings and may be even termination so that space can be freed for employees who want to be there. However, it would be better to find out reasons of disengagement before thinking about taking action. Thus, following steps are suggested for transforming disengaged employees into the engaged ones: 
 
• Identify the sources of disengagement. This can be done through employee satisfaction survey.
• Deal on 1-on-1 basis.
• Try to bridge the gap and convert disengaged into engaged as much as possible. This phase includes negotiation and counseling activities. During this phase, attempt should be made to find solutions for the identified sources of problems. The phase would be fruitful if discussion focuses on issues like employees’ roles/responsibilities, employee empowerment, career path, building peer to peer relationship, building close ties between management and employees, company’s good and bad news, team cohesion approaches, employee’s personal problems related to disengagement and their solutions etc.
• Engagement culture can also be promoted by pasting inspiring posters in the work area.
• Look for exit option for the employees who remain actively disengaged even after efforts by the organization.
 
In conclusion, there is some misconception around disengaged employees. People believe that the disengaged employees are the ones to blame. However, in most cases, the problem is lackluster leadership and bad company culture.
 
Shakya is a Lecturer at Grammar Public College, a Management Consultant with BS Nepal and Chairman of Sarathi Nepal, Lalitpur.

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