Bestselling author and business guru Patrick Lencioni’s seminal book The Truth About Employee Engagement was first published in 2015. And it’s still a must-read for anyone interested in employee engagement and the impact disengaged employees have on organizations.

The era of remote working ushered in by the pandemic has certainly made employee engagement a hot topic. Worldwide, organizations are grappling with how to engage employees that are no longer in the same building. According to Forbes, ‘companies found themselves building an airplane while it was flying through the sky.’

One year on from the first lockdown in the US is an excellent time to review where employee engagement is at. And perhaps more importantly, where things are heading.

In this post, we run through some of Lencioni’s key points. And we bring you up to date with fresh insights on employee engagement.

The Truth About Employee Engagement And Job Satisfaction

Lencioni makes it clear there’s a strong relationship between employee engagement and job satisfaction. He talks about the notion of ‘job misery.’

‘People who are miserable in their jobs dread going to work and come home frustrated, defeated, and weary.’

Interestingly, Lencioni argues that job misery can affect anyone and at any level of the organization. A seemingly successful executive is just as likely to feel miserable at work as a garbage collector.

He also talks about the high cost of job misery. This can be measured not only in relation to the individuals and their family and friends but also the organization. Recruitment, retention, and ultimately productivity all take a massive hit when workers feel miserable about their jobs.

Job misery leads to disengaged employees. And just like any virus, all that negativity and cynicism can quickly spread throughout the workforce.

Indeed, the cost to businesses of disengaged employees is well-documented. One study on workplace engagement in the US found disengaged employees cost businesses a staggering $450-550 billion each year.

Given all the social and economic disruption over the last 12 months, workers are more likely to feel job misery. And with such high financial stakes, it’s vital managers take steps to identify disengaged employees. But that’s easier said than done when your team members are working remotely. Here are some tell-tale signs to identify disengaged remote working employees.

5 Ways To Spot Disengaged Remote Workers

1. Withdrawal

A disengaged employee is likely to withdraw from any non-essential activities and conversations. Watch out for the worker that never participates in virtual get-togethers or rarely contributes to the team chat. While it may just be a case of struggling to juggle home and work commitments, it could also be a warning sign of job misery setting in.

2. Silence

This is a step up from withdrawal. Silence in team meetings, failure to turn on the camera in video conferencing, and overall lack of communication are all red flags.

3. Dip in performance

Has the quality of your employee’s work taken a plunge? Or perhaps they are regularly failing to meet deadlines? Any dramatic change in a worker’s performance could be an indicator of disengagement.

4. Naysaying

Disengaged employees are more likely to see the negatives in every situation. So, watch out for workers that pooh-pooh any new idea or immediately dismiss an opportunity.

5. Absenteeism

It may well be that your team member is just having a bad run of health. However, unexplained absences or a regular pattern of sick days, especially on a Monday or Friday, should be investigated.

It’s essential, however, to bear in mind that we are living in challenging times. In a recent survey, nearly 70% of respondents said they have struggled to maintain a healthy work-life balance while working from home in isolation. So, while it’s essential to be aware of the potential for disengagement, there may well be other factors at play.

disengaged employees

The Truth About Employee Engagement: Root Causes Of Disengagement

Lencioni identifies three root causes of job misery and disengagement as follows:

  • Anonymity
  • Irrelevance
  • Immeasurement

Addressing these root causes will see your business well on the way to achieving strong employee engagement.

Anonymity

In The Truth About Employee Engagement, Lencioni argues that employees cannot feel fulfilled in their work if their efforts go unrecognized. People need to be appreciated and valued, and that applies equally to their personal and work lives.

The potential for staff to feel invisible and anonymous has only increased since the pandemic. According to one survey reported by Forbes, 82% of employed Americans feel their managers do not recognize them. This employee mindset results in poor morale and low productivity, which ultimately affects the bottom line.

It’s much harder for workers to gain direct appreciation from customers, clients, and employers when working remotely. Managers and executives need to work harder to ensure Lencioni’s identified problem of anonymity is addressed.

So, how do you go about doing that when employees are in distributed teams?

One way is to set up an employee recognition program. Organizations that are ahead of the game not only have an informal thank-you culture in place, but they also formally recognize employees too. And the company intranet is the perfect vehicle. Publish positive customer testimonials and client feedback on the intranet’s newsfeed. Or why not acknowledge the employee or team that has gone the extra mile with an appreciation award.

Of course, workers will always welcome monetary rewards. However, it could also be something simple: lunch vouchers, home-delivered sweet treats, or gourmet coffee from the local deli. And why not consider a rotating trophy? The employee or team has total bragging rights before handing on the appreciation award to the next recipient.

Just as effective is a heart-felt shout-out from a colleague. Using intranet newsfeeds, #channels, and @mentions, peer-to-peer recognition is a powerful way to tackle employee anonymity.

Irrelevance

Lencioni’s The Truth About Employee Engagement identifies irrelevance as the second root cause of job misery. Disengagement results when staff do not feel as though their efforts matter. No sense of common purpose or shared goals leads to, at best low morale and, at worst active disengagement.

The Truth About Employee Engagement makes it clear that no one is immune from the dangers of irrelevancy. Lencioni suggests that even high-profile athletes, actors, and entertainers can have unsatisfied lives. And drugs and alcohol are not always to blame. Often, it’s the fear of irrelevance that’s the culprit.

Managers have a responsibility to ensure every worker understands how their work impacts company success.

Performance reviews are one obvious way to make the connection between employees’ daily work and company goals. Check out our blog post packed full of tips on how to improve staff performance reviews. However, this shouldn’t be just a one-off annual exercise. Regular one-to-ones are needed throughout the year to reinforce that sense of value and purpose.

Furthermore, make sure corporate projects and cross-team collaborations are closely aligned to company goals. Employees should be able to see a direct link to their work and the company’s purpose.

In addition, use the intranet to broadcast company achievements and success stories. Not only will you be tackling the problem of irrelevancy, but you will also develop morale and team spirit.

In the context of remote working, it’s more important than ever to tackle irrelevancy head-on. It’s easy for employees to become disconnected and isolated, so managers have to work harder to prevent disengagement.

Some commentators, including Forbes and Deloitte, argue that belonging and company purpose have become critical influencers on employee engagement. For them, the combination of the pandemic, widespread economic disruption, and the push towards social justice exemplified by the BLM movement mean employees are more aware of their organizations’ social impact.

Immeasurement

You won’t find this word in any dictionary. Lencioni came up with the term in The Trust About Employee Engagement to describe employees’ need to measure their progress. He argues that unless workers have a means of assessing their successes and failures in the job, disengagement sets in. Staff should have a sense of ownership and control over their daily work.

Alongside personal goals that are clearly linked to corporate ones, managers must provide tangible ways for employees to measure achievement.

One consequence of the pivot to remote working has been an increase in micromanagement. In a mistaken belief that home workers cannot be trusted, some employers have taken micromanagement to a whole new level. The reality, however, is that micromanagement damages self-esteem and stifles innovation.

According to Gallup, managers need to move away from the mindset of being a ‘boss’ to becoming a ‘coach.’ The best-performing organizations empower their staff to create and innovate within set boundaries. And they also ensure workers have the tools to assess and measure their progress objectively.

employee engagement

The Truth About Employee Engagement: Benefits  

Lencioni makes it clear that employee engagement is well worth the effort. According to The Truth About Employee Engagement, the most obvious benefit is increased productivity. He argues that workers who find meaning in their jobs are more diligent and willing to go the extra mile. The upshot is higher quality and increased productivity.

In addition, Lencioni says that engaged employees are more loyal. These workers are less likely to look around for more fulfilling opportunities. And they also serve as unofficial brand ambassadors and spread their enthusiasm about their work to family and friends. For businesses, this results in lower recruitment and retention costs.

What’s more, strong employee engagement is a cultural differentiator. A strong company culture is apparent when your workforce finds meaning and relevance in their work and can measure success.

The latest research from Gallup bears out Lencioni’s benefits of employee engagement. In the world’s largest post-Covid study, Gallup’s research demonstrates that employee engagement is an even stronger predictor of performance during tough times.

The global study of over 112,000 businesses in 96 countries makes a compelling case for employee engagement. When comparing top-performing organizations for employee engagement with those in the bottom quartiles, Gallup discovers the following:

  • 23% more profitability
  • 10% more customer loyalty and engagement
  • 18% increase in sales productivity
  • 81% improvement in absenteeism
  • 66% increase in employee wellbeing.

However, the same study found that the percentage of workers who are actively disengaged is 13%. And across the entire workforce, that’s a considerable number experiencing job misery. Therefore, the potential for these unhappy workers to spread their negativity to colleagues remains high.

The Truth About Employee Engagement: Main Takeaways

If you haven’t yet read Lencioni’s The Truth About Employee Engagement, we encourage you to do so. His arguments are still valid today. He was right to highlight the problem of disengagement and job misery. Addressing the root causes of disengagement is vital for improving employee engagement across the board. Executives and managers should be aware of the root causes for job misery:

  • Anonymity
  • Irrelevance
  • Immeasurement

However, awareness on its own isn’t enough. Tangible actions such as those we have identified will ensure your business gets to reap the rewards of employee engagement, including:

  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced absenteeism and staff turnover
  • Enhanced company culture to become an employer of choice.

MyHub’s cloud intranet solutions are used by organizations worldwide to drive higher levels of employee engagement. Under one virtual roof are all the tools you need to address the factors causing job misery and disengagement. Find out more with a free demo or 14-day trial. Don’t let job misery fester in your organization; get in touch today.

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