Nigel McPolin
Organisational Psychologist, etimes2 ltd

According to most sources, the majority of employees are disengaged.  They will be ‘getting by’ every day, doing maybe enough just to stay out of trouble.  They will be going about their working day, resenting each minute they spend there.  Watching the clock, counting down to tea breaks, lunchtime and home time, simply punching in their hours.  No more, no less.  Some of them are underperforming, some aren’t.  Some are producing sufficient quality and quantity of work, but there is so much more they could offer.  Yet, you should remember that many disengaged employees are talented employees.

We need to be careful to distinguish between disengaged employees and poor performers that possibly should never have been hired.  Disengaged employees are talented employees who shone brightest at the interview and joined the organisation with a big smile, delighted to be there and looking forward to what they hope is a successful chapter in their blossoming career.

Bang! Something happens in their working experiences.  A negativity builds up and they become disengaged.  The job and organisation is not matching their needs and expectations.  They feel undervalued and perhaps that their career is slipping away. Yet, they keep turning up every day and punching in the hours in abject misery.

If disengaged employees are talented employees, why don’t they get another job?

This sounds like the most straightforward and simple solution.  It should be.  But it isn’t.

The impact of disengagement on the individual employee can be intense.  The employee, once so bright, enthusiastic, motivated and highly engaged, with high ambitions for the future might now be watching their career taking a serious setback.  The employee can remember the high ambitions and a bright past and will want to get back to that place.  S/he will also remember the experiences that led to disengagement – the low value, not being heard, not being respected or trusted, unclear communication and expectations etc.

EX2 Employee engagement platformOf course, the employee wants to escape and is most likely exerting some effort in this respect.  However, that is the wrong frame of mind and is a barrier to performing well in an interview to get a new job.  His/her communication tells the story of wishing to escape rather than a positive story about seeking his/her next opportunity and career enhancement.  S/he is stuck because achievement, challenge and development is a distant memory.  S/he feels that his/her employability is seriously compromised, with little to offer prospective employers or an inability to highlight the skills, experience and talent on offer.  Soon, for many, the job search is forgotten about to avoid further disappointment.

The ‘escape’ will be long and arduous and, for many, will end in failure.

What should the employer do?

The employer has two options, either try to re-engage these once talented and bright employees or provide them with a more positive experience in order to help them find a new job.  Both of these options require remarkably similar inputs from the employer.

Basically, the employer is attempting to provide the disengaged employee with a new positive narrative.  The employer needs to support the employee to find new positive working experiences to replace the old negative ones.  It involves delving deep into employee engagement survey data and identifying specific areas of the organisation where support and guidance is required, including leadership development where the manager may need support in engaging the team.  It involves building engagement from the bottom-up in the organization as top down initiatives just don’t impact on a wide spread of employees.

Either way, the employer is reducing disengagement.  If employees move on to another job, they appreciate the support and publicise the caring nature of their previous employer.  If they stay, they are more engaged and will contribute more to the team and organisational vision and success.

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Many disengaged employees are talented employees, so what are you doing to re-engage and retain their talent in your business?
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