Can you afford to ignore your disengaged employees?
We often hear about how to better engage with employees, but what about the actively disengaged employee? Don't stick your head in the sand, says Mike Friend.
Tackling the drivers of both engagement and disengagement is critical to achieving high performance. The concepts of the service profit chain as proposed by Heskett, Sasser and Schlesinger in 1997 continue to resonate strongly with organisations interested in understanding the link between employee engagement and business performance. By addressing service delivery systems and raising employee engagement the model infers that organisations will generate greater customer satisfaction, loyalty, and ultimately better business performance. Upon this and other similar concepts has been based the whole employee engagement industry. Simply put, engagement matters and increasing the motivation and commitment of employees has a significant positive impact on business performance.
Harris Interactive continues to be a strong advocate of the service profit chain – indeed an increasing proportion of our research now focuses on the linkages between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Nevertheless it has become apparent from surveys conducted in the past 18 months that whilst the rate of employee engagement has continued to rise in proportion to the level of investment, the proportion of disengaged employees in these same organisations has remained largely constant.
Clearly, the interventions designed to address engagement at many organisations are having great success in drawing the ‘neutrals’ up into the ‘engaged’ group, however the effectiveness of these interventions has been less successful with 15% of employees that we would typically describe as being actively disengaged.
That this is a little reported fact is due in large part to the desire of organisations to focus their internal communications on employee ‘engagement’ rather than the more negative issue of dissatisfaction and disengagement. However, the reasons for the lack of progress with disengaged employees are complex. These include;
- Organisations are resigned to the fact that they cannot meet the expectations of all employees and it is therefore inevitable that there will always be employees that will never be engaged or committed
- Organisations balance the cost of investment with the return and come to the conclusion that investing 80% of their resources on winning over the 20% of employees that are disengaged is not worth the outlay in time and resources
- Some organisations not only focus exclusively on growing the engagement number to the exclusion of all else, they also link bonuses and incentives to achieving certain engagement targets
- Many organisations accept significant rates of voluntary turnover amongst their employees and believe it is beneficial to have a regular stream of new blood into the organisation
- One of the most frequently made assumptions is that employee attrition is highest amongst disengaged employees. In fact, nearly 50% of disengaged employees don't leave organisations at all
- The vision and values of the organisation fail to resonate with all employees, indeed may even increase levels of cynicism and alienation. This is becoming evident where organisations fail to live up to their green credentials or corporate social responsibility
It might be asked who actually has the luxury of being disengaged in this economy? With hiring freezes still in force, a sluggish economy and talk of a double-dip recession yet to ease, the chances of simply quitting your job and finding another one that pays better is unlikely for the vast majority.
The reality is that having a job should be motivation enough to get up, get dressed and go to work for a living – for now. When the job market eases again as it surely will sooner rather than later, employers who have failed to address disengagement amongst their employees will need to be wary of the employee exodus that may follow. Employers prepared to lose large numbers of their employees in a healthy economy bank on an equal and opposite effect – namely the CV tsunami – the flood of applicants looking for new careers in their organisation. However, retaining existing employees is often cheaper than hiring and training new employees.
The challenge for organisations is to revisit some, if not all, of their previously held assumptions around disengagement and its impact on the organisation. Is it disengaged employees that are leaving the organisation, or is it disengaged employees that are driving better performing employees to seek careers elsewhere? Are employees actively or passively disengaged and in what ways is this manifesting itself in the organisation?
Ultimately the question to ask is: is your employee disengagement strategy is helping you to become a high performance organisation?
Mike Friend is the global head of employee research at Harris Interactive. He can be reached at [email protected] or +44 (0)208 263 5447.