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Why your best employees may be disengaged.

Let’s start with the definition of an Engaged Employee as “a person who is passionate, committed, loyal, confident, and know they are contributing towards improvement for themselves and their workplace.”  I believe all employees come to workplaces with this attitude and display these behaviours until something happens to change this.  Then we see different behaviours of those who remove themselves emotionally, who seem to be watching the clock or keeping their “head down”.

When employees come into conflict with the organization or their colleagues they often lose passion and commitment for the organization itself. They may feel their psychological health and safety are compromised and view the organization as unfair due to factors such as:

  • Poor communication
  • Structural favouritism
  • Poorly managed conflict
  • Nepotism
  • Excessive workloads
  • Inadequate diversity measures
  • Vague selection & promotion
  • Insensitive handling of concerns
  • Capricious decision-making

Blaine Donais is president and founder of the Workplace Fairness Institute. His “Head-Down” Theory includes a definition of employees who are passively disengaged.

Passively Disengaged – employees who see no particular reason to act out in any way either positively or negatively to unfairness or conflict in the workplace. Employees in this category will not contribute their discretionary time, energy or insight to the organization. Passively disengaged employees are keeping their heads down and doing only what is required of them. When a culture of unfairness is prevalent in an organization, a large component of employees often fall into this category.

The following definition from Gallop can help understand the  actively disengaged zone of this theory.

Actively Disengaged – emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace, and jeopardize the performance of their teams.

Actively disengaged employees often engage in acts of sabotage and can erode an organization’s bottom line and negatively impact colleagues in the process. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.

According to Gallup:
In world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 9.57:1.
In average organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 1.83:1.

Managing conflict in organizations and creating psychological safety is an essential key to ensuring employees remain actively engaged. Organizations must have systems in place to provide employees with options if and when they come into conflict. These options should not only include appropriate policies and procedures and an open door policy, but should also focus on training, mediation, conflict coaching , 360 reviews, and internal/external Ombuds Office. Undertaking a Workplace Restoration will also support employees to regain a feeling of harmony and well being after difficult incidents or loss of trust in the organization.

When employees feel there are options to restore fairness they will recommit to the organization and rebuild trust with their colleagues. The goal is to ensure conflict is resolved and conditions are established for a psychologically safe and healthy workplace.

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