The Surprising Way to Encourage Disengagement

Within three years, Mike had gone from an excited, creative new hire full of passion, energy and ideas, to a guy with one foot out the door with disengagement like carbon monoxide: invisible and impossible to smell. Here is his story.

My first year, my ideas and alternative views were “refreshing.” I was quickly viewed as a rising star and invited to the right meetings. I was pleased to be rewarded with the coveted “exceeds expectations” rating. I was constantly looking for ways to improve our processes and make the company better. The next year, I guess I got a little too comfortable with sharing my opinions. In hindsight, I could have positioned them better, but I was saying what needed to be said. And every time I left a meeting the level above (except my boss) would thank me for speaking the truth. I just cared so much about our cause and was attached to our vision.

I received a “developing rating” that year.  That’s when I knew I was going to have to leave, but I wanted it to be on my own terms. I decided the only way to survive was to just stop caring. And that’s what I did. I buried my passion and I went along, even if I knew a better approach. And that year, I was once again given the rating of “exceeds expectations.” I “exceeded expectations” by caring less, offering less, and doing less.”

Mike’s boss made a point to chime in on the appraisal with a comment: “It’s nice to have you back.”

Mike is convinced his secret was subtle, but I doubt it. I imagine other box 9 candidates with great ideas vicariously got the “settle down” message and stiffled their enthusiasm as they polished their resumes.

It’s easy to think of engagement as everyone singing along with a merry smile.

Dig deeper. Your most engaged players may be the naysayers. They may need some polish, but be careful not to rub off their passion and value in the process.

3 Reasons Your Employee Engagement Program Isn't Working

In conference rooms all over the world, well-meaning HR types are sitting down with well-meaning managers and possibly a well-meaning consultant or two to talk about how to fix employee engagement.

  • “How do we get these millennials to be deeply committed to their work?”
  • “The staff is so tenured, it’s hard to get them excited about something new. We need something fun to make it fresh again.”
  • “The changes are hard, and everyone’s tired. We need to have a program that will give every one a shot in the arm.”
  • “We’re all working so hard, we’ve just got to find a way to make the work more fun.”

And before you know it, they’ve talked themselves into a well-intentioned program. They come up with a cute program name, glossy posters, and a roll-out strategy.

Cue the HR VP or perhaps the Sales Director who reminds everyone,  “We’ve got to be sure they understand this is NOT the flavor of the month. THIS program is different, this is real culture change.” All heads nod. They’ve all seen programs like this come and go. Everyone truly hopes this one will be different. Trust me, if you have to tell your team it’s not the flavor of the month, it is.

Programs don’t motivate people.

People don’t motivate people.

People are inspired in conditions where they can best motivate themselves.

Reasons Employee Engagement Programs Don’t Work

1. They Come from Outside the Team

Many such programs have the sense of being imposed on the team from HR or headquarters. They’re necessarily generic so they fit across departments. They need to be “communicated” and possibly “trained” as part of a “roll-out.” All of which makes the frontline leaders and teams feel like something is being done TO them more than FOR them or even better WITH them.

Tip 1: Employees know best what their teams need to feel more connected to, and inspired by, their mission and their work. Use the budget instead to give people the latitude to create something that will fit for their team and their work at hand.

2.They Create More Work for the Frontline Leader

Many such programs involve meetings, action plans, tracking spreadsheets, and other additional work for the Frontline Leader. Without proper support and perspective, this all just feels like more work taking the leader away from their biggest priority, supporting the team.

Tip 2: Ensure any programs and tools are directly tied into the core mission and goals of the team. You can’t inspire engagement as an overlay.

3. They Don’t Address the Root Cause

The number one predictor of job satisfaction is the relationship with the manager. Another key factor is the extent to which employees see real meaning in the work that they do and feel connected to a bigger vision. It’s difficult to box that into a step-by-step guide.

Tip 3:  For a more engaged workforce, invest deeply in the leadership skills of your frontline leaders. Give them tools that they can use to create deeper connection with the team and the work that they do. Help them to be better communicators.

A strong front-line team will do more for employee engagement than any program or broad-reaching employee engagement strategy.