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When out and about in the business arena discussing “things employee,” the issues that pop us most frequently generally relate to some flavor of employee disengagement – the increasing numbers of folks in the workplace who are underperforming and the effect this underperformance has on both the bottom line and morale.

Underperforming and disengaged employees impact and infect the entire organization often in a variety of ways, all of them negative.

For one thing, underperformers are usually nay-sayers, bad-mouthing the organization whenever they can. They also tend to make up the core of the gossiping group, the bullying group or the critical group, affecting morale – not unlike an insidious cancer which destroys the body cell by cell.

Moreover, the disengaged adversely affect productivity simply because it takes them longer to produce – and time, after all, is money.

Finally, the disengaged adversely affect the organization because of the way they interact with clients and customers. More often than not, they’re quick to bad-mouth their organization to others, with all the consequences this has on client satisfaction.

Yet, curiously, the vast majority of employees seem to enjoy a six-month honeymoon period when they first start a job during which time they are actively involved and engaged with their team and their organization. Then the thrill begins to evaporate. The critical question, of course, is why?

For one thing, reality sets in. The picture painted during the interviewing and hiring process turns out to be just one rosy corner of a much larger – and more blurred – painting.

The truth underneath the blur

Behind the gloss, the truth is that, leaders, managers and supervisors are often too busy to take an active role in learning about and supporting their direct reports, viewing them more as functions than people. The emotional distance that ensues fosters disengagement and underperformance.

Likewise, in failing to proactively support the growth and development of direct reports and help them in their career advancement, managers are creating a sure-fire breeding ground for disengagement, and discontent.

It’s a similar story, too, with the opportunities for growth, development and involvement in the creative process that may have been promised in the recruitment process but then fail to materialize. When employees are regarded as drones with few opportunities to branch out, learn new skills or contribute in new ways, they tend to back off.

A lack of information-sharing has much the same effect. Keeping individuals in the dark and refusing access to knowledge that would support them to be more productive and engaged is a sure-fire way to erode trust and build resentment and disengagement.

To make matters worse, in many organizations it’s unclear whether what gets rewarded is friendship or productivity. And when advancement comes from knowing the right people, others tend to withdraw and contribute less.

A culture of favoritism is also damaging because it leads to an absence of real accountability. Once-enthused employees will quickly become resentful when they see others escape from being held accountable because of whom they know.

Feedback is another critical factor. Employees feel stranded and abandoned when they don’t know where they stand. They need to be clear on what they are doing right and what’s wrong or else they’ll start to run on cruise control to get by. When employees lack clear goals or aren’t stretched by challenging, they soon become discouraged.

What all this highlight is that disconnects between employee expectations and organizational expectations lead to confusion. When an employee performs and produces and the organization fails to do so, employees become disenchanted and disillusioned and tend to settle for a less-is-more mindset when it comes to work and working. Disengagement results.

Disengagement – What’s the Solution?

The panacea for disengagement is, well, engagement. So, what can mangers actually do on a day-to-day basis to build a more engaged workforce?

They can show mutual respect, for a start. When leaders, managers and supervisors honestly and openly respect one another as human beings rather than as functions, they begin to build passion and positivity. Unconditional positive regards goes a long way in supporting folks to feel valuable, worthy and passionate.  And, passionate folks are engaged folks.

Holding one another accountable is another way of fostering mutual respect and trust. Mutual-accountability leads to experiencing pride in one’s self and the team, increased enthusiasm and a willingness to go the extra mile, especially when the going gets tough.

Likewise, asking folks to contribute and participate supports engagement. Empowering direct reports has tremendous benefits. Asking everyone to be involved in decision-making when it involves their immediate work and their team foster proactive engagement. Requesting folks to share with others what they do best is empowering. Empowerment results in commitment, buy-in and honest and sincere engagement.

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • What keeps the thrill alive for you? It is alive, isn’t it? If not, why not?
  • Are you proactive in providing feedback and mentoring on a consistent basis, not just when HR says “it’s time” or just when it’s convenient for you?
  • How do you feel/react/respond when it comes to taking a “heart-felt” approach to people?
  • Does everyone hold everyone else accountable for their piece of the work as an open policy? If not, why not? Fear? Politics? Confusion?
  • Do you actually live your organization’s values on a daily basis? What would others say about you?
  • Do you ask folks to contribute, engage and participate on a consistent basis?
  • Do you empower folks as a practice of your management style?
  • Do you publicly recognize and reward folks on a regular basis?
  • Are you publicly recognized and rewarded on a regular basis?
  • Do you feel you are respected by your bosses, peers, and direct reports?
  • Do you tend to hoard information? If so, why? What would others say?
  • Do you have a tendency to “play favorites?” If so, how do you justify that behavior to others?
  • If the thrill is gone for you, what one baby step can you take this week to get it back? You do want it back, don’t you?


(c) 2015, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful. Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that thing is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.   I coach by phone, Skype and in person.

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