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Employee disengagement: what is it and how can I stop it?

Employee disengagement can become a catastrophic problem for your company, especially if you fail to nip it in the bud when you notice the warning signs. Fortunately, most managers know it when they see it; employee disengagement is marked by unhappy, disinterested, lethargic employees.

What’s the problem?

It isn’t just evident in the workplace environment—you’ll also see it in your numbers. Employee disengagement is a leading cause of slumping productivity to the point that in 2018, as James O’Brien, PhD describes in OPENForum, its cost is estimated between $400 and $600 billion at a rate of $2,246.

Employee disengagement is quite common. According to Gallup, only 33% of US employees feel engaged at work. Most are somewhere in between with 51% feeling relatively neutral—neither substantially disengaged nor engaged. The numbers aren’t great—almost a quarter of all employees leave feeling work drained every day. 56% of employees don’t believe they have a career advancement path ahead of them. 60% believe their job is taking a significant toll on their personal life.

The costs of employee disengagement go beyond lost profits and lost productivity. It can act as a contagion in your workplace, infecting other employees with low morale. Additionally, Freddie Rohner of iHire LLC writes that employee disengagement leads to more workplace accidents, higher defect rates, and retention issues.

How to fix it

The causes of employee disengagement are numerous and highly varied. Some employees don’t get feedback, while some cite general unhappiness. A lack of personal growth is a cause for concern, as is a perceived lack of career growth. Work-life balance is a big issue for many employees, while others are beleaguered by poor relationships with managers and colleagues. One particularly tough problem that can occur is a disidentification between company values and personal values—if employees can no longer identify with your company’s mission statement, then disengagement issues are sure to follow.

Because there are so many different possible causes and combinations of causes for employee disengagement, it’s essential to diagnose the specific causes of your problem. This begins with communication—oftentimes, disengagement occurs because management is not listening to the concerns, experiences, and problems from general employees. Face-to-face meetings, roundtable sessions, and anonymous surveys (so that people can be honest) are all ways to start a dialogue with your employees. After understanding the nature of your problem, you’ll also need to tailor your solution. If employees are dealing with work-life balance issues, an extra day off or a health seminar can go a long way. If they feel underappreciated or unheard, you should foster better communication and start a recognition program. This could be a “Wall of Fame,” a formal announcement in an office meeting or a newsletter, handwritten personalized thank you notes, or more casual dress days. However, as we’ve noted, sometimes these gestures can actually hurt employee morale more than help it because they come off as disingenuous or as consolation prizes. 2018 recruitment trends focus on holistic perks. These token gestures should be supplemented by meaningful rewards like pay raises and paid days off.

Employee disengagement is tough to solve because although the symptoms are largely the same, the causes vary greatly depending on your business. By opening up avenues of communication, you can figure out exactly where your problems are coming from, you’ll be much better equipped to solve them. Employee disengagement is not a problem with a one-size-fits-all solution—for success in the long run, you have to be creative, have a multifaceted approach that incorporates better communication, and offer rewards.

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