3 Root Causes of Employee Disengagement and What You Can Do About Them

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When you’re running a business, it isn’t enough to have employees that just show up.

High quality work only gets done when the members of your team actually care about the work they’re doing and strive to do their best. A feeling of engagement from everyone involved is crucial to success.

If you’ve noticed a decline in work quality among your team members, you know how devastating disengagement can be for workplace morale and productivity. However, it’s important not to reprimand an employee for poor performance before considering what problems might be leaving the employee disengaged. If you can prevent these issues, you can tackle disengagement before it begins. Let’s examine three of these common problems.

1. Employees aren’t deriving meaning from their work

Because your employees spend nearly a third of their lives in the workplace, it should come as no surprise that they seek a sense of purpose in what they do. When someone fails to connect with their company’s vision and goals, it makes it far easier for them to check out emotionally and disengage from their work.

In some cases, this happens due to a lack of perspective and communication. High-level decision makers see a company from a macro perspective, so they can chart the large-scale progress the company is making toward its mission. However, they often lack the perspective of lower-level employees who do the perceived grunt work necessary for the business to function. These employees may not see the fruits of their labor, which leaves them disillusioned.

You can help bridge this perspective gap by clearly and openly talking about your company’s successes and goals. If you don’t already have a clear mission statement that’s widely available to employees, write one. If you do, share progress toward that mission as it happens, and do this frequently and consistently.

You can also help your employees feel like they are an important part of your company’s mission by including them in the decision-making process. Not only will this help them feel more engaged, you’ll also gain fresh new perspectives from often overlooked areas of the company.

2. Your Employees are Overworked

If your employees are burning out, particularly during the busier seasons of the company, they might have too much on their plate. Working long hours may seem like it will help during crunch time, but not only does it lessen the quality of work, it leads to a host of other problems like depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, poor quality sleep, and more. All of these problems will worsen burnout and disengagement. Ultimately, working long hours tends to backfire on both the employee and the company.

Even if your company sticks to the standard eight-hour workday, putting so many tasks on an employee’s shoulders that they must use all eight of those hours to keep up can also lead to burnout. Studies have shown that the average office worker only does deep work for an average of about three hours per day. Other time is spent socializing, taking breaks, reading news articles, and transitioning between tasks. 

We aren’t saying you should encourage your employees to only spend half their day working, but it’s important to give people room to breathe. Encourage your team to take breaks and decompress. Doing so can make a huge difference.

If your company sees a large influx of new work that needs to be done, ask yourself if your employees have the capacity to take it on or if you’d be better off hiring additional team members. Better yet, ask your employees how manageable their workload is on a regular basis. This will help you build trust between management and employees while simultaneously managing utilization.

3. Your employees feel stifled by a lack of flexibility

A few years ago, eight-hour workdays in offices were standard. Thanks to the rise of remote work, this is no longer the case. If your employees feel that their work could be done outside the traditional office framework, their resulting frustration can lead to disengagement. This is especially true if they have important, time-sensitive responsibilities outside work, like children or health problems.

Obviously, there are some industries in which flexibility isn’t possible. Health care, law enforcement, and service work all require rigid scheduling, However, if the majority of your company’s work requires little more than a computer with internet access, consider moving to a remote or hybrid work model, or at least offering flexibility in the hours when work can be done. Not only can this save your company money, the resulting freedom will help keep employees engaged and respected.

Employees also often feel stifled by a lack of time off. PTO regularly tops lists of most desirable work benefits, and many studies have shown that taking vacation time improves employee morale, physical health, and productivity. Because the US is one of the only developed countries that doesn’t offer guaranteed time off by law, a generous vacation plan often makes a big difference in employee engagement and retention.

However, it isn’t enough to allow vacation time on paper. It’s also important to make sure your employees feel comfortable using their PTO. A 2018 study found that a mind-boggling 768 million days of PTO went unused in the US. When asked why they didn’t use their time off, many workers reported feeling uncomfortable making the request, fearing they were overburdening their coworkers or outing themselves as disposable.

Other workers fail to fully separate themselves from work while on vacation, answering emails and calls when they should be recharging. This can lead to further burnout and disengagement when they return. You can help prevent this by encouraging employees to use all vacation time offered and to fully disconnect while away. You’ll notice the benefits when they return to work.

LEAPCare helps prevent disengagement before it begins

Communicating with your employees is key to keeping them engaged, but many employees don’t feel comfortable sharing personal problems with work colleagues, even if those problems are causing issues in the workplace. Third-party support sponsored by an employer can be the ideal solution. You can show your employees you care while respecting their professional distance.

LEAPCare offers 24/7 virtual care and support to all of your employees, so they can get the listening ear they need, when they need it. Learn more about our employee support program here.

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