Are We Losing the War on Employee Disengagement?

Disengaged WEBAn executive coaching client complained that he wasn’t focused. He mentioned it no less than four times on his intake sheet. However, as our coaching is progressing, he hasn’t decided on any goals, so he has no tasks to work on, and since he has no tasks to work on, he has nothing to focus on. Well, you get the picture.

Continuing to “wing it” through life doesn’t lend one the ability to focus because you’re all over the place. There is a lack of direction. A story told by James Clear about a lion tamer serves to illustrate the point perfectly. A lion tamer found a unique way to work with lions so they wouldn’t attack him in the ring while performing at the circus. The lion tamer carries a whip and a chair into the cage. The whip is mostly for show. When the chair is thrust in the lion’s face, he can’t focus on just one of the legs and so the lion freezes with indecision. Sound familiar?

In doing research for this blog, I became curious if the new buzzword, disengagement, and focus, or the lack thereof, are one in the same. There is almost zero studies or articles comparing the two. So, I turned my focus to Merriam-Webster. For engagement, one of the definitions is: “emotional involvement or commitment.” For focus, one of the definitions is: “directed attention.” Certainly, I’m no psychologist, but perhaps my coaching client is lacking in the ability to drum any emotional attraction or direction for anything as he has just been through some life changing scenarios in his personal life. However, this could beg the age-old question, which comes first the chicken or the egg, or which comes first the emotion or the attention? Now, we’re getting deep!

Once upon a time, I too, experienced a life changing event and I was both disengaged and unfocused. But I realized that it was not wise to continue to live in this rut. So, I decided to focus on a task. I took out a piece of paper and wrote, “Take the dog to the vet.” It was all I could muster. But, come the morrow…that’s exactly what I did, I took the dog to the vet. Since then, my life has skyrocketed. OK, that’s a bit much, but I could find something to focus on each day until I found some semblance of emotion to become engaged in life once again. So, what’s the point?

Employees at all levels have issues at some time or another with some type of disengagement and lack of focus. Fast Company even suggests that there is employer disengagement as well. The reasons for disengagement, of course, run the gamut. However, disengagement and lack of focus both can curtail productivity, help perpetuate higher turnover, and encourage poor-quality work. Therefore, it’s important to understand the causes of disengagement in the workplace. HR Zone offers an article giving 11 reasons for employee disengagement, so you’re going to have plenty of items to review, and the article goes on giving lots of juicy statistics. As with any issue, it’s always wise to get to the root cause. Here are some ideas that can help not only uncover the root cause, but help grow a better workplace.

  • Engage in employee development. This begins with understanding the wants and needs of employees.
  • Treat employees like adult human beings …and don’t forget to say “Please” and “Thank you.”
  • When taking surveys – act on the results. Several sources believe that surveys are passé. However, if you are going to administer a survey, not acting on survey results builds distrust and does major damage to employee relations.
  • Share the “why.” In other words, just like people, organizations must have a purpose and then that purpose must be shared.
  • Set goals together. This can help people focus.
  • Encourage frequent feedback. Employees need to have a voice.
  • Be transparent. ‘nuff said.
  • Don’t over or micro manage. Most employees have more of an appreciation for autonomy.

These are all easy to implement and for the most part inexpensive. However, there is a fly in the ointment. A study by Karen Paul, Ph.D. with the 3M Corporation indicates that despite the fact that a “billion-dollar-industry” is about to engage in fighting employee disengagement, (sorry, couldn’t resist) “a number of interesting reports are emerging that indicate business leaders are feeling they are not realizing the benefits of employee engagement initiatives.” Dr. Paul suggests that rampant changes and the fast-paced world we live in plays a role in this dilemma. The good doctor goes a step further and offers some remedies of her own.

  • The fast-paced society we live in requires a laser-like focus on critical business issues.
  • Employee activities must be in line with strategic goals.
  • Teach supervisors and managers how to confront issues and cope with decision making.
  • Pay attention to, ramp up and repair broken communication and be transparent.
  • Redesign work to lesson workloads and empower employees.
  • Revisit strategic planning more often; the once-a-year approach is not enough to keep everyone on track.
  • Ensure employees have the right tools.
  • Be cognizant of the invasive nature that technology allows during what should be off time like vacation.
  • Long term commitment from the top is needed.

Many of the items on these lists are not new. Every organization must be accountable that engagement issues have support from the top and that they are being implemented fairly across the board. Dr. Paul makes a valid point about the pace of change and technology and how it affects both our work and private lives and how the two are becoming increasingly intertwined. This fact alone, could bring push back from employees like nothing else we’ve seen.

This coin has two sides, individuals like my coaching client, must be accountable for establishing goals and setting a path to work toward them. Coaching and mentoring and even a training program on goal setting can often help many employees toward this initiative.

If you would like to have a no obligation chat about employee engagement, call 404-320-7834 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit

Graphic Credit: Copyright: Romario Ien

Disengagment,, CEO,Talent Management,