I had a profound realization about disengaged employees I want to share with you that is critically important for anyone who manages people. I need to give you two minutes of background first.
“The world has an employee engagement crisis, with serious and potentially lasting repercussions for the global economy.”
This is the first line from a January 2016 Business Journal article. Gallup has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S since 2000 and it basically shows the same thing for fifteen years. It’s not good.
Generally, the numbers show the following every year:
- 35% of employees are engaged (let’s call these A players)
- 50% of employees are not engaged (B players)
- 15% of employees are actively disengaged (C players)
“Not engaged” basically means doing the minimum to get by. “Actively disengaged” employees aren’t just unhappy, they’re acting it out and undermining their engaged coworkers.
I’ve known about this study for a while and maybe you have too, but some work I’m doing with a particularly passionate client showed me something I didn’t know:
The actively disengaged employees can appear to be highly engaged, and sometimes they themselves don’t even know they’re disengaged.
Not only are they fooling their managers, in other words, but they are fooling themselves. Sure, there are some “bad apples” that act as the vandals of the work world, but these are exceptions. Most people have those “good intentions” that we talk about being good for paving special one-way roads.
It wasn’t until I saw about 20% of a company’s employees caught in their disengagement that I really got this. This company has a nearly five-star Glassdoor.com rating and is nationally ranked for their culture by Entrepreneur.com.
These were well-meaning, hard-working, good people who had no idea what impact they were having on their company. I worked directly with each one of them and they even fooled me for a while. I’m still shocked by this. But as the great George Costanza once said, “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”
This line is actually profound. Everyone at one time in their life has a lie they are so committed to they don’t realize its falsehood. It’s my experience that disengaged employees rarely realize their disengagement until they’re fired, and even then sometimes not. As Socrates said, “Man is not a rational creature, he is a rationalizing one.”
Disengaged employees justify their disengagement. They tell themselves they’re underpaid, unappreciated, overwhelmed, doing the jobs of others, poorly managed, doing their best, etc. And they very often are doing their best, it’s just not enough for the job at hand, and this mismatch causes them to vent frustration in unconsciously innocent, yet destructive ways.
In my experience, the only way to find your disengaged employees is by raising the bar of excellence in your organization. When you do this, your A players will shine, some Bs will rise and some you’ll lose, and your Cs will move on.
How do you raise the bar in your culture to see what’s true? This is what Clear and Open is about, and I just realized it. When managers enroll their employees in Clear and Open Courses, we find out together what’s true.
My next course, How To Manage and Be Managed, begins January 11, 2018. Click here to learn more.
Can you handle the truth? Or will you wait until things get worse?