Don’t underestimate the impact of disengaged employees

Annie Button, Contributor · 11 Sep

If you care about profit above all else, the chances are you have more than a handful of disengaged employees. The irony is that ignoring disengagement will be costing your business much more than you think.

Cracking the whip and introducing sweeteners to speed up productivity may seem like a good business strategy, but (and this may come as a surprise) most employees just want to be treated with respect. This means understanding they aren’t machines – everyone has ‘off’ days, gets ill from time to time and needs to feel nurtured.

Above all, employees need to feel valued and part of the plan. This is yet another irony because the fact is people generally like to work collaboratively towards a shared purpose and are more productive when they feel included and are doing so.

Happy and motivated employees

Engaging staff, not disengaging them, makes much more sense than squeezing the goodwill out of people and driving them into an exhausted state.

The simple fact is, how you deal with your staff can make or break your business. Employee engagement is a key ingredient in workplace productivity, so, before you dismiss it as an irrelevant buzzword, here’s how disengaged employees can hamper business success.

Staff turnover

Is staff turnover in your business a problem? If it is, you may want to rethink your employee engagement strategy or at least take some time to reflect why it is that good people are leaving in droves.

Did you know that employee engagement and staff retention are connected? You’ll often hear the phrase ‘people quit their bosses not their jobs’, and while this is true to a degree, most people actually leave jobs because the work itself isn’t enjoyable, their strengths aren’t being utilised, or they’re not being given opportunities to develop their careers and grow.

Employee happy that it is their last day

So, yes, a manager may be partly at fault in this scenario, but ultimately it comes down to the company culture as a whole. For the record (and in a nutshell), company culture refers to ‘how we do things around here’ and employee engagement represents how employees feel about ‘the way we do things around here’.

Customer experience

Isn’t it great to see your employees go above and beyond for your customers? A growing body of research says that an engaged workforce is the key to improved customer experience.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that disengaged and unhappy employees won’t be pulling out all the stops to produce their best work and keep customers impressed.

Happiness even has an effect on tone of voice. Think about that for a moment. Your staff might well be saying all of the right things when they speak with customers, but how do they sound?

Engaged, happy employees will be brimming with enthusiasm and have a completely different tone of voice compared to an employee who is feeling undervalued, disgruntled or unhappy. However nuanced, your customers will pick up on this.

Finding ways to recognise your employees for great customer service is one way to keep up positive attitudes.

Absenteeism

While a certain amount of absenteeism in any business is expected, (even the hardiest employees get sick from time to time), repeated absences may reflect deeper employee engagement issues. Exhaustion and burnout are, for example, common when employees are consistently overloaded and pushed to deliver.

There are two sides to absenteeism when it comes to a disengaged workforce. Firstly, staff who feel demotivated and disengaged at work are more likely to feel low or depressed, and subsequently, take time off work.


Employee bored at work

A secondary effect is that disengaged staff are much more likely to contribute negatively to their own health by indulging in unhealthy habits.

These unhealthy behaviours can include eating foods that aren’t nutritious and drinking alcohol in the evenings to wash away their dissatisfaction with work. Both poor diet and alcohol have an impact on sleep. This downward spiral of unhealthiness leads to health problems and further absenteeism.

Work quality

Poor work is just one gauge for employee disengagement, especially if a person has previously been achieving their goals. Mistakes, after all, are inevitable when employees lack focus and aren’t feeling motivated.

Be aware that work quality isn’t always compromised in disengaged employees. Those with a high personal work ethic may still be keeping up with tasks and producing high-quality work, but don’t be duped into thinking work quality is the sole measure for employee engagement.

Broken communication

A disengaged employee isn’t always easy to spot, but a good sign to look out for is withdrawal. If there’s persistent silence in the workplace or employees are afraid to speak out, you have a problem.

Disengaged employees won’t be joining in to celebrate business wins and they won’t be partaking in friendly banter. They’ll be coming to work, doing the bare minimum and going home again.

Employee happy that it

In teams with disengaged employees, communication and collaboration often break down. It’s a low morale downward spiral. In a disengaged workforce, there may be tension or a sense that people just can’t be bothered.

Poor communication feeds distrust and creates uncertainty, which limits business performance and hampers success.

Summary

Business owners, leaders and managers love engaged employees. They consistently produce great results. They’re motivated. They adapt. They’re passionate and creative. They’re energetic. They believe in the visions and values of the organisation they’re working for and they make the business money.

Employee engagement is the result of a strong and positive company culture. It requires time, investment and a belief in doing right by employees to get there.

Disengaged employees, on the other hand, are a sure sign that leadership doesn’t care. If profit is your motivation, employee engagement should be at the top of your business strategy.

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