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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10 Habits of Highly Effective IT Professionals

Are you looking to improve your IT skills? Are you a business leader looking to make your IT organization more effective?

If so, take a look at Simon Stapleton’s eBook titled “The 10 Habits of Highly Effective IT Professionals.”

What are the 10 Habits?  Glad you asked.  They are:

  1. Openly Share Knowledge
  2. Coach Others
  3. Learn by Reviewing
  4. Focus on Strengths and Strive to Avoid Weaknesses
  5. Remember that “everybody is a resource”
  6. Effectively deliver value
  7. Delegate Effectively
  8. Escalate at the right time
  9. Actively Participate in a Value-Chain
  10. Create the right work-life balance

I have one comment about the last habit, “Create the right work-life balance”,  is a great habit to attempt to have, but I find it much more difficult for IT professionals to form these days.  Most IT organizations are understaffed and overworked and its tough to get any type of work-life balance in today.  I like the idea of forming this habit but I’m not so sure the current environment allows IT professionals to form this one completely.

The ebook, which is available as a free download (after signing up with Simon’s system) is a good read.  Nothing in the ebook is new stuff (is there really anything new out there these days?) but the ebook is a nice refresher of what some good habits are for IT professionals.  Go check it out.

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Flexible Working hours brings gains

Management Issues recently published an article titled “Flexible working boosts the bottom line” that reports on some very interesting research results that says:

…a new study has found that greater flexibility reduces absenteeism, improves employee health and even helps to improve employee commitment.

The research report, released by Wake Forest University, provides some very interesting results. Look for my analysis toward the end of this post.

The study, as explained in the MI article is:

…a health survey completed by 3,193 employees of a large multinational pharmaceutical company, shows that flexible working is associated with definitive improvements in absenteeism rates, job commitment and employee health.

Some interesting results from the research:

  • An increase in flexibility of working hours was associated with a decrease in absence and and an increase in job performance
  • Part-time and flextime options create a culture of flexibility, especially when managers and supervisors encourage a proper ‘work-life‘ balance.

The research is summed up thusly:

“This study provides evidence that flexibility is associated with health or well-being over time,” said Joseph G. Grzywacz, Ph.D., senior author and an associate professor of family medicine.

“For managers, the results suggest that implementing flexible work arrangements can contribute to the bottom-line.”


I’m a big believer in flexible work arrangements…everyone that I know who works from home or has some other type of flex time arrangement is much more happy with their job. They feel as though their employer understands that there is things in life other than work…and…many of these people work much more than the ‘required’ 40 hours a week because they feel much more excited and interested in their job.

Contrast that with the folks that slog through a job that still holds to the 8 to 5 mentality and, for the most part, you’ll see less happy folks.

Mass Career Customization

I recently finished reading Mass Career Customization, the newly released book from Deloitte’s Cathleen Benko and Anne Weisberg (published by Harvard Business Press).

The Quick review: Great book with some excellent ideas.

The long review (well…not real long):

The authors do a very good job of outlining the issues and trends that are pressing employees today. The main issues, according to the authors, are:

  • Knowledge Worker Shortfall
  • Changing Family Structures
  • More & Better Educated Women
  • The changing expectations of Men
  • Generational Maturity (Gen X & Y)
  • Technology

These issues are definitely affecting organizations and employees and there has been little thought put into how to allow employees to structure their lives and careers to address these issues.

The authors provide a framework, which they’ve called “Mass Career Customization” (MCC) that allows employees and organizations to customize a career. This framework provides four dimensions that can be used to customize a career at any given point in time. These dimensions, Pace, Workload, Location/Schedule and Role, are well thought out and well crafted ways to customize a career. According to the authors, these dimensions are defined as (taken from page 84):

  • Pace – options relating to the rate of career progression
  • Workload – choices relating to the quanity of work output
  • Location/Schedule – Options for when and where work is performed
  • Role – Choices in position and responsibilities.

Let’s consider an example of how MCC works:

Assume you are a person just out of college. You take a job with a large company and want to get on ‘the fast track’ to career growth and experience. You, along with your manager, would use the MCC framework to increase the dimensions of Pace, Workload and possibly Location/Schedule so that you can gain as much experience in the business as you can. The Role dimension would be at its lowest level since your role would be as an individual contributor.

Now, assume you’ve worked for 3 years with this same MCC model and are getting tired of the pace of life and want to settle down a bit and go back to school for your MBA. At this time, you and your manager would sit down and develop another MCC model for your career to possibly reduce Pace and Workload while increasing your role to a position that moves you into a managerial role.

Further along in your career, you can use the MCC framework to structure your work-life balance in order to do what you need to do.

The overall goal of MCC is to provide a method for allowing employees and organizations to utilize the talent pool in a more effective manner. I can’t help but think of the books by Ricardo Semler (Maverick, Seven Day Weekend) which discuss the need to treat employees like adults and allow them to do their job in whatever way they feel most comfortable with. I think the Mass Career Customization framework is getting us closer to that type of organization.

This book is a very interesting book…I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the art/science of making organizations more effective and employee friendly.

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher as an advanced review copy.

[tags] Mass Career Customization, books, culture, organization, Human Resources [/tags]

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