Diagnosing the Real Problem When It Comes to Employee Disengagement

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A colleague of mine is currently going through some health issues and working with several doctors to try to determine the underlying causes of many varied symptoms.

While, thankfully, none of this is life threatening or altering, it is a highly frustrating process for her as many of the doctors would simply prefer to treat the symptoms rather than dig deeper to find the underlying problem and eradicate the health issues at their roots.

I often think we do the same thing with employee engagement efforts. We conduct surveys to determine “symptoms,” then we treat just those symptoms with a new “Hawaiian shirt Friday” or “pizza lunch Tuesday,” or even putting a ping-pong table in the break room.

These efforts, while well intentioned, are seen by employees for what they really are – treating symptoms, but not addressing the disease of employee disengagement.

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What are the roots of the disease of disengagement?

  • A poor company culture – It’s much easier to treat the symptoms than to do the hard work of changing a poor company culture. But it can be done. It starts at the top. The senior executives, especially your CEO, must be on board with effort. Changing your culture into a positive one of recognition and appreciation is possible when directed from the top and enabled through  all employees (Join me at one of my upcoming workshops to find out how.)
  • A poor manager – Let me be clear.  A poor manager could be just a mean person who cannot manage others. Far more likely, this is a well-intentioned manager who does not know how to communicate to employees the strategic goals and values of the organization that makes sense to employees in what they do every day.

How to treat the disease of employee engagement

  1. Properly diagnose the problem – identify where employees feel the most disconnect. Do they understand why and how what they do every day directly impacts the success of their teams, the customers and the company as a whole? Do they have the tools and resources they need to get their jobs done well and effectively? Can they make progress and see the results (the primary factor for self-motivation)?
  2. Treat the disease, not the symptoms – Employees don’t need another pizza party or coffee flavor option in the café. They need the tools to get their jobs done. They need to understand very clearly how their work matters and makes a difference. They need to not rely on their direct manager to provide this information because, frankly, some managers simply cannot. Give all employees the ability to provide this validation and context through a strategic employee recognition program that encourages everyone to acknowledge and praise everyone else for the good work they do every day.

Does your organization treat the symptoms but not the disease of employee engagement? What would you recommend to treat the disease itself?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


2 Comments on “Diagnosing the Real Problem When It Comes to Employee Disengagement

  1. I agree that many employers fail to dig deep into the root of employee disengagement, and this can be harmful for employees’ individual mental health and overall productivity and happiness. Another way employers can address this is by holding regular interviews with existing employees to determine where the disconnect is. Regularly staying in touch with the needs of your employees can help you to identify a potential disengagement problem–before it starts.

  2. Employee engagement is a huge factor for leaders to address and your suggestions are really insightful. This quote in particular resonated with me: “Employees don’t need another pizza party or coffee flavor option in the café. They need the tools to get their jobs done.” Thanks!


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