From Employee X to Ex-Employee Via Disengagement

“Only 14% of professionals in Europe are engaged at work, a survey shows – compared to 33% in North America and 21% globally” was revealed in a series of articles said this week and I can’t imagine why we are so calm about it! This is immensely bad news! Not only for the lives of the people that are in that situation but for the bottom line of the companies they come from. 

21% globally is a dismal amount of people to be “engaged”.  How can we be so nonchalant about this? It's a major crisis.

Let’s break it down. Irrespective of what we think of the word “engagement” we, at PeopleNotTech have spent the last years relentlessly advocating we start making distinctions between “belonging and passionate” and “emotionally engaged with their team and their work” because not looking into the delimitation and not giving it any time for analysis and thinking is irresponsible and further perpetuates the disengagement.

Being engaged is about care. “I, employee X, care about and I am happy with Y” and the “Y” can be “my company’s good standing” (if rarely) or “my teammates” or even “my work” but each and every one of these causes different behaviours and has different motivations and levers. 

The first one is what an NPS score is trying to measure when they ask their infamously useless “would you recommend us as a place of work”? We’ve dissected the absurdity of the score before but truth be told the question is far from smart or edifying as well. If employee X is deeply unhappy but believes their place of work pays above marketplace salaries they will invariably downplay their own discomfort and always recommend the company. What will then happen is that more people will come in at that recommendation and be faced with feeling the same way, soon equally disengaged and perhaps still recommending the company. Will they be the productive and high performant happy employees the enterprise needs? Of course not. So what then was measured?

“I care about my teammates” is of course universally true - we are all good enough of humans not to treat others maliciously and we generally want them to be happy. But if the emotional bond is lacking, that level of care is superficial and no different from caring about humanity at large and that is simply insufficient when a lot of our teamwork heavily depends on invested collaboration. “I care about my teammates on a deep level, we are close and emotionally connected to each other and feel psychologically safe with one another, we’re practically like a family” is what that same phrase and sentiment would look like if we were talking real engagement.

“I care and am happy with my work” is another interesting one. It’s chiefly interesting because it reflects both what the job is and how the person doing it feels about it. This is captured in much better words by Google’s Aristotle project which reported that high-performing teams all feel a sense of “impact” and “purpose”. Of course, the wider definition captured by this survey is essentially reflected in every aspect found by Google - engaged, happy and therefore high-performing employees report they have not only purpose and impact but also a high degree of Psychological Safety, they perceive structure and clarity and have dependability too. But if we leave high performance aside, at a very minimum employees have to sense they are making an impact and have to be keenly aware at all times of their purpose if we want to claim they are engaged.

Why does it all matter? Because unhappy, disengaged employees COST YOU MONEY. Who can dispute that? And who can afford to carry on like it’s not important? 

The truth of the matter is every exec knows this is the single biggest risk to their business but they have no real clue how to fix it and for good reason, because throwing smiley recognition stickers at your employees or giving them yet another ping-pong table won’t change this horrendous status quo. It’s a much bigger effort that’s needed. An effort that starts with a considered exploration of what all your HumanDebt is and how to lower it to create employees that are genuinely enthused, pleased, connected, emotionally invested and passionate and therefore as performant as you want them to be. 

And remember disengagement -and its even more evil cousin: "active disengagement", are layered on of and simultaneously part of burnout, fear for the lack of flexibility going forward, extreme societal discontent and economic downturn and so many other ailments and people will eventually break.

Don’t let Employee X become your EX Employee - work harder to lower your HumanDebt, start them on the human work and help them feel seen, involved and happy enough to care.

Related: HumanDebt™ by Elon Musk