While most of us would probably choose a sunny beach over the cold glare of our computer screen any day of the week, there’s a a big difference between a healthy desire for time off and dreading coming into work in the morning. The main difference between a person who wishes that they had more vacation days one that wishes that their office building would get a termite infestation is that the first person would probably feel refreshed and ready to work after a little R&R.
The second person, however, would be straight back to their old, dead-eyed ways after just a few days back on the job. If left unaddressed, employee disengagement can reach a level where motivational words and reprimands have little to no effect on their level of engagement. The key to improving employee engagement is to open a dialogue with your dissatisfied employees before they find another job or turn into a Dilbert comic strip.
In case you aren’t convinced that employee engagement is a serious issue, you might be interested to learn that disengagement effects most businesses in the United States. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report, 70% of workers in the US are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”. While only 18% of the disengaged workforce is “actively disengaged,” this demographic is quite detrimental to the companies that they work for as well as the economy as a whole. Now the difference between “not engaged” and “actively disengaged” is the difference between a person that goes through the motions and someone who has stopped dead in their tracks. According to Gallup report, actively disengaged employees cost employers 450-550 billion dollars annually in lost productivity, errors and lost business.
So, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
The vast majority of the workforce has checked out and it’s up to you to catch them in reception before they’re too far gone. If you suspect that some of your staff are dead in the water (it’s a metaphor kind of day), the first step toward getting their motor running again is to open a dialogue. This first, crucial step is also one of the hardest. A lot of people won’t want to admit that they don’t care about their job (especially to their boss) and others might even deny that fact to themselves as well.
Try asking the mild disengagement cases questions like…
“Do you know how your work contributes to the overall success of our company?”
“Where would you ideally like to be 3 years from now?”
“If you could make any change to the way that we do business, what would it be?”
These sort of questions are intended to coax the employee into a dialogue about their future with your company as well as how their contributions effect the big picture. Many disengaged employees feel unappreciated or that what they do is unimportant and, consequently, lose motivation. It’s your job to locate your disengaged employees in the grand scheme of your company and make them feel like their thoughts and effort are appreciated.
For the more advanced cases, those that are actively disengaged from their work, attempts at inspiring more enthusiasm for their work will often fall on deaf ears. If you attempt the dialogue above with little to no results, it’s time for something more like a wake up call.
Try a more direct approach by asking questions like…
“Do you enjoy your work?”
“What do you do here?”
“What would you say are your major contributions to the last project that your team worked on?”
In this dialogue, you’re trying to challenge the employee out of their complacency. Show them that they have your attention and communicate your expectations about the work that they should be doing. If they’ve failed to pull their weight for some time, then implementing stricter performance bench marks might be the only way forward. This approach might not get the employee to like you or their job anymore, but at least you’ll have grounds to fire their lazy buns if the work doesn’t improve.
Hopefully, through a little conversation, your disengaged employees will open up and let you know what’s holding them back. Sometimes, there will be nothing to do but offer encouragement. Other times, the problem that has been keeping your employee from enjoying their work is as easy to correct as getting them a different supervisor or a desk in a quieter area of the office.