Employees are greatly influenced by the people who surround them.
Carl is a new employee and loves his job. Since he started two weeks ago, he's been praised constantly by his supervisor for his great work ethic and high productivity. However, Carl has noticed his coworkers seem less than thrilled by his stellar performance. After work one day, they approach Carl as a group and tell him something needs to change. Carl's productivity on the job is making the rest of them look bad and changing their supervisor's expectations. Carl backs down and lowers his performance at work from excellent to merely average in order to fit in with the group's expectations. Rather than having a new, highly engaged employee, Carl's company now has another partially engaged employee.
This scenario, while extremely troubling, is more common than most managers would like to think. Even when employees do not take things to the extreme, they still may belittle or joke about highly productive employees to get their point across. Not all employees back down as Carl did, but most get the message: keep the status quo or be disliked. It all comes down to the high school mentality that when an individual "sets the curve" too high, it is unfair for everyone else. This attitude is extremely dangerous in the workplace, as it breeds disengagement. New employees quickly pick up on cultural cues within a workplace, which can spread disengagement like wildfire.
Situations like Carl's can create an ongoing cycle of disengagement. In order to break this cycle, organizations must focus on creating a culture of engagement among the staff. Employees tend to mirror the behaviors and attitudes of those around them. If a partially engagedemployee is placed in a situation where he or she works closely with actively disengaged employees, it is more likely he or she will start to exhibit the traits of disengagement. If, on the other hand, partially engaged employees are paired with actively engaged employees, they are more likely to become engaged themselves. Engaged employees are distinguished in the workplace because they are passionate, prideful, and clear brand champions. By separating out negative staff members, managers can make a huge impact on employee engagement within their organization.
In order to make an even bigger impact on employee engagement, managers should focus on the most impactful key driver of engagement: recognition. Recognizing employees for great behaviors and outcomes is an excellent positive reinforcer. However, it is important to be fair when providing recognition, as any perceived favoritism could discourage employees who are not engaged and strengthen the cycle of disengagement. Being fair does not mean that managers should recognize everyone equally, instead, they should make sure to give employees the recognition they deserve. In Carl's situation, his coworkers may have believed their manager was favoring Carl, which could have added to their dislike of Carl's work ethic as well as increased their personal levels of disengagement. As a best practice to avoid conflict, managers should consider recognizing employees privately for their work to avoid any perceptions of favoritism.
Another issue employees face on their path to engagement is a lack of connection with the organization's goals and values. The employees who cornered Carl clearly thought only of their own personal desires, rather than connecting their productivity to company outcomes. When employees understand how they contribute to an organization's overall mission, they stop worrying about competing with other employees over performance and realize they instead need to focus on making the organization better as a whole.
Managers should take all steps they can to attempt to engage their disengaged employees. However, if employees do not show any signs of change, it may be time to cut them loose. People within our industry as well as some of our clients have referred to disengaged employees as vampires, water cooler malcontents, arsonists, and even terrorists. Disengaged employees are a drain on an organization and lead to bad customer outcomes. When a customer has a bad experience, he or she tends to tell 10 different people, who in turn tell five additional people. All in all, 60 potential customers hear about this bad experience. This chain of negativity is known as the Multiplier Effect, and can be detrimental to an organization.
Managers may not always be aware of conversations like the one Carl experienced or realize their employees have entered into a cycle of disengagement. If management notices employees exhibiting increased behaviors of disengagement, it is important to act quickly to ensure the situation does not become worse. By breaking the cycle of disengagement, managers can see a huge difference in the behaviors of their employees.
To learn more about employee engagement, click here to visit our website, or download our ROE: Return-on-Engagement white paper.