What are the main reasons employee disengagement has become so common in our workplaces?
Employee disengagement manifests itself in many ways; in the slow tempo and zoned-out looks of people as they perform their tasks, in taking far too many sick leaves for the tiniest of sniffles, and complete nonchalance in anything work-related that goes beyond their job description.
While companies try to fix productivity problems related to disengagement by sending their employees to seminars promising to triple their productivity, that’s just like putting a band-aid on the bullet wound. The author Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker and marketing consultant, made popular the concept of “Start with Why” in his book of the same title. So let’s start there; why are some people disengaged in their jobs?
One reason is a lack of meaning derived from the job. Sometimes your task in a corporate job is structured in a way that you fail to see the big picture. You’re stuck printing and stamping papers for so long that you start asking yourself, “Did I really go through four years of university to do this? Every day?”
I know a person who worked a corporate job where she had to sit the whole day idle because her job depended on another team’s results. At the end of the workday, she would run their data through a program and generate a report. The whole process was semi-automated except for her copy-pasting skills. While this is an extreme case, if your task is similarly repetitive and boring, you will feel like a replaceable piece of a heavy machinery, and it’s very hard to derive much meaning from what you spend 8 hours of your workdays doing.
Another reason for disengagement comes from low morale in a fear-filled environment and restrictive environment. When a person’s always afraid to lose their job and livelihood, it creates a culture of distrust where everybody is selfishly looking out for their own personal interests. Going to work always means having to look over your shoulder, which can be really exhausting.
Another type of environment is the one with such a rigid infrastructure that there’s no room for creativity and innovation. But someone might argue that a rigid infrastructure is important because it streamlines productivity and helps companies achieve their bottom-line. The argument is that companies can’t operate with no rules and regulations. It would be anarchy. That is only partly true.
To evaluate how rigid your internal infrastructure is, you – as a leader – need to listen to what’s going on among your employees and be aware of what happens at the interface between your employees and the customers (or businesses if it’s a B2B company). If employees need to get a thousand signatures before an idea is implemented, or if customers repeatedly hear comments like, “I’m sorry I can’t help you. It’s an online system and this is just the procedure,” and the result of that are hundreds and thousands of dissatisfied customers and helpless employees then maybe some things need to change.
Because the big picture is, these systems and procedures exist to help people, and not get them entangled like flies in a cobweb.
Last but not least, disengagement comes from a lack of passion in work being done. This is very common in the Arab world because kids from a young age are pushed into medicine, engineering, accounting or law, so they end up in a job they have no passion for. While it’s important to be passionate about what you do, I personally do not encourage the “Quit your job to follow your passion,” narrative either, because sometimes passion for a field comes after you’ve spent years building expertise. Also, the economic job market doesn’t adequately support some career paths, so some people – like writers – have to keep a day job to support their livelihood. But this discussion on passion is a very long one, so let’s leave it for another day.