Understanding what stands in the way of employee engagement is obviously crucial to being able to improve the levels of engagement within your organization. While this is something that I look at in more detail in my latest book, today I just want to offer a couple of extracts which deal with the number one cause of employee disengagement – bad management and poor leadership.
‘If there is one thing that all the research into employee engagement makes abundantly and consistently clear, it is that bad managers and ineffective leaders have a great deal to answer for. In fact, there are those who would go so far as to lay the blame for the lack of worker engagement entirely at the feet of general managers who neither know nor seem to care what it takes to achieve success in a particular role, and of HR managers who spend their lives fire-fighting. All too often, HR departments are seen to concentrate their efforts on reactive rather than proactive measures, as well as on the processes of daily administration.
According to research conducted by Hewitt Associates, however, it is not just how HR departments spend their time that is relevant, but also the ratio of HR staff to other employees. In organizations plagued with low employee engagement, the ratio of HR to workers is said to be 60% higher.
Although some organizations are now holding their senior managers directly responsible for attracting, retaining and engaging the right staff, the views of employees in most companies clearly indicate that there is a long, long way to go yet. The Towers Perrin study in 2005, for example, showed that:
- 59% of workers thought that their senior managers did not support new ideas and new ways of doing things
- 60% thought that senior managers acted in a way which was inconsistent with their values
- 63% thought that senior management did not make enough effort to be visible and accessible to employees
- 64% thought that senior managers did not effectively communicate the reasons for important business decisions
- Around 66% believed that senior managers did not communicate openly and honestly with their employees
Rather worryingly, Towers Perrin reported that despite knowing that their employees are in dire need of ‘guidance, direction, vision and clarity’, most organizations simply put it on the ‘too difficult’ pile. As a direct consequence, however, workers are left feeling totally unclear as to what contribution they are making to the organization and what successful performance looks like in the eyes of the employer. Faced with poor and inconsistent communication which relays frequent changes in priorities, they feel as though they are lost at sea and so their passion wanes and they move closer and closer to becoming actively disengaged in their work.
BlessingWhite’s research in 2008, meanwhile, showed that while 75% of workers trust their immediate managers, only 53% trust senior management, despite the fact that these are the people who should be spearheading the drive towards organizational commitment and high performance.
Gallup’s research also comes to the same conclusion, that bad management is the main culprit, showing quite clearly that engaged workers are very satisfied with their managers, while disengaged employees are extremely dissatisfied with theirs.
Examples of bad management and poor leadership can, of course, be seen at all levels in organizations, but in many cases attempts to deal with these issues are directed at lower level managers. HR managers, it seems, are simply too afraid to tackle those who are higher up, despite the fact that they may be the main source of the problem. Rather than acting as role models for their staff, many of these upper level managers are invisible or, worse still, they fail to uphold and demonstrate the organization’s values themselves and so set extremely poor examples.’
As I mentioned earlier, although levels of employee engagement tend to be high during the first six months to a year after joining an organization, at this point they begin to drop off up until the five year mark. Much of the reason for this is also attributed to poor management and leadership. With insufficient guidance, very little clarity and often very little interaction with managers, workers not only quickly come to feel confused, but they also become highly distrustful of management and the information that managers are feeding them. In many instances they see different sets of rules and performance indicators applied to different employees and come across managers who do not seem to possess any performance management skills at all. With neither proper guidance nor feedback forthcoming, all the initial passion and enthusiasm that they felt for the job in the early days soon starts to drain out of them. Their hopes are dashed, their dreams shattered and their expectations left entirely unmet.’
‘One point which is really worth making here is that managers faced with disengaged workers actually spend most of their time trying to solve the problems which their lack of engagement has actively created, such as by chasing them for work which is overdue, sorting out disputes or dealing with disciplinary issues. In reality, there probably does not feel as though there is, or could ever be, sufficient time for things like showing recognition and giving praise. However, while creating an environment which is conducive to employee engagement takes a concerted effort in the first instance, maintaining it only involves the same amount of time and energy (or even less) as maintaining a semblance of order!’
As I mentioned yesterday, Passion Drain to Passion Gain! – A Roadmap to Igniting Employee Engagement and Turning Passion Into Profits is aimed at providing employers and HR staff with the tools for achieving engagement success.