Employee engagement is one of the most important metrics for any company. Engaged employees are more productive, satisfied and loyal, and happier. Yet, despite the benefits, employee disengagement is becoming a pandemic-sized problem.
A new Gallup study shows that while employee engagement consistently rose until 2020, it’s been on a downward trend, with only 32% of employees feeling engaged in 2022. Globally, only 21% of employees are engaged. That means out of 100 employees, nearly 80 of them don’t care about their work and won’t bother going the extra mile.
This is a big deal. Disengagement can:
- cut productivity in half, costing global businesses $7.8 trillion in lost profits
- raise absenteeism by 37%, and
- increase employee turnover.
These consequences of disengagement create a culture that is stressful and unrewarding, which causes more employees to get disengaged.
But it’s not all bad news. While small levels of disengaged employees are unavoidable, there are solutions to the rapidly growing trend of disinterest. But before we look at the solutions, we have to understand the causes of disengagement.
Root causes of employee disengagement
The first thing to know is that employees who are disengaged aren’t lazy or lacking in intelligence. Disengagement is actually a product of the workplace, not the people. It’s a byproduct of a lack of:
- clear expectations
- leadership, and
- growth opportunities.
All of these “lacks” can create disengagement at a foundational level. But each of them have solutions and strategies you can implement to build a culture of engaged, happy, and productive employees.
1. Solutions for a lack of clear expectations
Employees can’t perform at a high level if they’re confused about what they should be doing. What are the most effective ways to clarify expectations and help employees feel confident in what they’re doing?
- Revamp the onboarding process. Onboarding is a crucial step in setting your employees up for success. Provide the training, materials and background information employees need to fully understand their responsibilities, regardless of their position. Employees should know exactly what’s expected of them from day one.
- Improve performance evaluations. Managers should hold one-on-ones and performance evaluations with their employees regularly. Communication should be open and honest, and if an employee isn’t meeting a high standard, ask them why. Help them evaluate their performance and clarify any confusion they may have. Regular evaluations can help employees and managers build relationships, set goals, and stay on track.
When employees are confident in what they’re doing and they know how to exceed expectations, the likelihood of disengagement drops.
2. Solutions for a lack of recognition
One of the biggest reasons employees get disengaged is that they don’t feel cared about at work. It’s hard to be engaged in the work when you feel overlooked, ignored or unsupported. But regular, meaningful and personal recognition can be the key to fix this.
Employee rewards and recognition are the foundation of a caring, appreciative culture at work. Whether an organization uses an employee recognition software or not, recognize employees’ contributions, efforts and performance. Offer incentives, rewards and gifts for things like birthdays, holidays, work anniversaries and wellness initiatives.
Also, recognize that employees have lives outside of work. By offering greater flexibility, both with hybrid/remote options and flex-time opportunities, employees will feel cared about and supported in both their work needs and personal lives.
3. Solutions for a lack of purpose
When employees don’t know why their work matters, they’re naturally not going to care about it as much. It’s hard to put all your effort into a task when you think no one cares about the results.
Align employee responsibilities with organizational purpose and values. To do that, leaders should be open about how employee work ties into the success of the company. Have values and a mission statement that are more than just words on a wall, and then tie employee work into those values.
When organizational values and employee work are aligned, engagement can increase by 49%.
4. Solutions for a lack of leadership
Management is one of the biggest drivers of engagement—and one of the biggest causes of disengagement. When managers are ineffective or unsupportive, employee engagement sinks. In fact, 70% of variance in employee engagement scores are a result of managers.
Managers need training in effective management – and that’s not a bad thing! Even the best leaders need regular training to keep up with the shifting needs of the workplace. Train managers how to:
- Communicate clearly, regularly and effectively
- Hold performance evaluations based on employee goals and growth
- Focus on employee strengths instead of weaknesses, and
- Develop trust-based relationships with employees.
The single biggest driver of engagement is whether employees feel their managers care about them. When employees feel that their managers will support them through thick and thin, they’re naturally more invested in their work, team and the company.
5. Solutions for a lack of growth
If people feel like they’re at a dead end in their career, why would they ever do more than the bare minimum?
Employees are more satisfied and engaged when their work challenges them in healthy, sustainable ways. They’re more engaged in the company overall when they know they have the opportunity to gain new skills and move up in the organization.
Not only does professional development increase employee engagement, it helps employees be more innovative, more productive, and more profitable. And it also increases retention by up to 50%.
Dismantle disengagement once and for all
Even though disengagement is sweeping the world, it doesn’t have to reach every employer or every employee. By building a culture of clarity, recognition, purpose, trust and growth, employees will naturally be much more engaged in what they do. And when that happens, organizations can enjoy:
- 10% higher customer loyalty
- 23% higher profitability
- 18% higher productivity
- 43% lower turnover (in low-turnover industries), and
- 18% lower turnover (in high-turnover industries).