Guest Post: The Cost of Employee Disengagement

This is a guest post from Michael Sebastian, PhD.   Find out more information about Michael here.

Anger, fear, depression and fatigue. These are the feelings of many employees today. And those emotions don’t get checked in at the door. A bad economy has many employees feeling stressed out and apathetic about their jobs, resulting in “employee disengagement.”

Employee disengagement is a fairly new business term; it used to be called employee commitment. Once considered one of those ‘touchy feely’ subjects that had many managers rolling their eyes. Today employee disengagement is silently costing US companies billions of dollars. Gallup recently estimated that employee disengagement costs US employers $300 billion every year. This statistic really validates common sense; it stands to reason that employees who are genuinely committed to their employers and jobs are more productive. Engaged or committed employees usually take fewer sick days and generate an average of 43% more revenue. This problem is often ignored because it is difficult to measure, something most managers like to do – can’t measure it can’t manage it right?  But the cost is real and of particularly concern at a time when companies need maximum productivity.

Ignoring the problem is usually bad strategy any time, but particularly when the stakes are so high. Today’s organizational leader has a unique opportunity to reverse this trend. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Be aware of your emotions. What you do, say and, don’t say, communicates. What messages are you communicating? For the sake of the company, if not yourself, confide in friends and family, read books and be aware of the image you’re projecting. Saying and doing nothing also communicates, but probably not the message you’d like.
  • Lead by Example: Demonstrate the importance of work-life balance. Employees are working extra hours out of fear or concern. Demonstrate the importance of work/family balance. Spend time with your family and let your employees know it’s okay to do the same.
  • Be Aware of Your Breathing. Under stress we often take shallow breaths, which only heighten our anxiety. Taking deep breaths can help your focus and reduce stress. This is another of those little things that can make a huge difference.
  • Exercise. The pressure to skip exercise during times like this is enormous. However exercise is a powerful stress reducer that will allow you to function at your best. You might also look into yoga or meditation.
  • Insulate Yourself From Bad News. Don’t feel guilty about walking away from bad news. A person can only take so much doom and gloom before it impacts your attitude. Take time away from bad news to refresh, and remind others and yourself that this is temporary!
  • Gratitude is King: In times like this, gratitude is often one of the first emotions to melt away; yet a heartfelt thank you is exactly what many employees need to hear. Make a conscious effort to recognize good work, and encourage positive behaviors. The dividends are huge and it doesn’t cost a cent.
  • Prioritize & Focus: Risk managers have to do more with less, so regularly prioritize your work. Jettison busy work and let employees clearly know which projects get top priority, and which can get by with ‘good enough.’
  • Candid Meetings. Set aside time with your employees for candid conversations about the current situation, and keep the informal discussions going as long as they’re productive. Unless you clearly state what is going on, people will ‘creatively’ fill in the gaps, and that can create a toxic environment. The only caveat is that you set the proper tone, which is one of solutions. It’s fine to discuss concerns but be aware of excessive complaints that serve no useful purpose.

And perhaps above all else, regularly remind everyone (including you) that this situation is temporary. Good times, and bad, never last forever. Things will get better!

Michael Sebastian has experience as an IT business analyst, project manager, team leader and Chief Information Officer (CIO) at various companies like Arthur Andersen, AT&T, County of San Diego, and TDIndustries.   He holds advanced degrees in business and information technology, is an adjunct professor at Touro University, and a member of Society for Information Management and the Association of IT Professionals.  Michael can be reached at [email protected].

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16 responses to “Guest Post: The Cost of Employee Disengagement”

  1. New blog post: Guest Post: The Cost of Employee Disengagement

  2. Raven Avatar

    Eric / Michael – Great post! I've shared it and the included tips with the folks over at the Employee Engagement Network (… as we are always looking for ways to keep folks engaged. It's a sad trend that more and more of us are becoming disengaged so lists like these are always helpful!

    – R

  3. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Hi Raven – I've passed along your note to Mike. Thanks for sharing and stopping by!

    True about the trend…so many people are very disengaged these days.

  4. RT @ericdbrown: New blog post: Guest Post: The Cost of Employee Disengagement

  5. few things missing here, but interesting “The Cost of Employee Disengagement”

  6. Simon Stapleton Avatar

    Eric – please pass my thanks on to Michael. I really liked this post as the subject resonates with me entirely. It does so from two perspectives. 1) I can sometimes see the effect of employee disengagement and the cost it creates. The thing that totally sucks is that the cost is difficult to estimate in real terms (and therefore have a proper 'management' conversation about it and make interventions). I do instinctively know that this has a massive effect on productivity. The worst effect is when things take MUCH longer to complete because of proctrasination and protraction. 2) I have felt disengaged myself in previous jobs. If you are a self-monitor like I am, the effects can be disasterous as one knows something must change, but the inclination and CONFIDENCE to change it isn't there. This is as damaging for the individual as it is for the organization!

  7. Avery Otto Avatar

    Employee disengagement is an important problem. Thanks for posting these tips on how to mitigate the gloom of disenfranchisement. Another way to address commitment is to realign motivation with incentive in a way that is fair. These are some of the issues we have had to wrestle with in our challenge based collaborative social intelligence platform Cogenuity. Humans do resist change which is why we felt the need to build Cogenuity but the process is hard so we always welcome your feedback . We believe Cogenuity is the future of work and solicit your help in refining this vision of the future.

  8. D.Irvine, Globoforce Avatar

    I’ve heard more than a few stressed company leaders say in the last few months, “I don’t need to hear any more about employee engagement. I’m too focused on staying ahead of the curve in this recession.”

    That’s a very short-sighted view. Getting your employees more fully engaged – willing to give additional discretionary effort to get the job done – is more critical now than ever. To rebuild productivity and win the war between good vs. bad morale companies in this psychological recession will prove to be a strong competitive advantage today and when the market turns.

    Unfortunately, all too often senior leadership in a firm aren’t even on board with the CEO’s objectives, much less the lower and middle rank employees they lead. To achieve the company’s objectives, likely with fewer and more overworked employees thanks to recent rounds of layoffs, executives must get all employees willingly investing their full measure of effort. More importantly, employees need an understanding of how their efforts help to meet those objectives and then be reinforced in a positive way – such as through a simple thank you – so they want to repeat those efforts.

    i blog extensively on this topic of engagement and recognition specifically here:

  9. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Hi Simon – I've sent your comment on to Mike and passed along the URL for him to drop by. Hopefully we'll see Mike stop by.

  10. Mike Sebastian Avatar
    Mike Sebastian

    Excellent observations! Sadly many senior executives will probably wait until the cost is painfully obvious. Smart companies will address it now, and reap the benefits of higher retention when the economy is better (and employees have more employment options).

    Mike Sebastian
    [email protected]

  11. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Hey Mike – thanks for stopping by!

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