Engaging The Team: Why Are People Not Engaged?

“Companies with high levels of employee commitment achieved significant gains in financial performance and those with strong employee commitment scores consistently outperform those with low scores.” – Peter Record

DISENGAGEMENT is a worldwide phenomenon. However, it seems that “employees in Singapore are among the least committed in the world – just a notch better than the bottom-ranked Japanese.”

In a Gallup study, it was found that more Singaporeans are disenchanted in their work. In fact, the survey shows that 17 per cent are “disengaged”, 77 per cent are “not engaged” and only 6 per cent are “actively engaged.”

Employees’ disengagement has serious repercussions for the organization. Disengaged workers have lower productivity and will severely impact the company’s financial performance. Peter Record, an International Survey Research (ISR) senior consultant, reports, “Companies with high levels of employee commitment achieved significant gains in financial performance and those with strong employee commitment scores consistently outperform those with low scores.”

What are the factors contributing to disengagement?

Global factor

No one would deny that the world has changed dramatically after 9/11. There is greater uncertainty. Business has become more competitive. Leaders have higher expectations. They want more for less. Andy Grove of Intel wrote a book entitled Only the Paranoid Will Survive. Employers are paranoid and employees are nervous.

Rapid change has become a buzzword. Job security is no longer a certainty. Work is extremely stressful. Instead of rising to the challenge, employees become disillusioned with management, especially when leaders don’t engage with their workers and communicate rationales for change. One employee puts it this way, “I know I have to change but I don’t know why I have to change.” As a result, they become disengaged.

Organizational factor

Organization cultures that will drive workers towards disengage-ment include:

Performance-driven-relation-less culture.

Drive for performance makes leaders unconcerned about staff morale and welfare. This is what is called “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

Highly-politicized oppressive culture.

Some organizations promote more politics than principles. Both managers and staff are more concerned about getting ahead on the corporate ladder than generating energy to improve the organization. This promotes a “who-you-know-is-more-important-than-what-you-do” type of organization.

Bureaucratic command-and-control culture.

In some organizations, position, power and pushing are important. There is lack of trust and empowerment. Workers are treated as clogs in the production line.

Unethical cut-throat culture.

In the drive to stay afloat and survive, ethics are thrown out the window. This culture seeks to win at all costs. Financial manipulation and underhanded ways become a way of life.

Leadership factor

Another important factor accounting for employees’ disengagement is the leadership factor. Although Singapore’s workforce rated corporate leaders highest on questions of financial stewardship, integrity and respect for workers, these leaders scored appreciably lower on the key dimensions that drive workforce innovation, engagement and performance.

Visionless, incompetent and uncaring leaders are least likely to be respected by their followers and are most likely to create dissension and disengagement. Other leaders suffer from what I call communication-deficit-dysfunctional syndrome. They don’t communicate enough with their employees. They are not “M & M” (Mix-and-Mingle) leaders. Other leaders’ communication styles are harsh, tough and abusive. Very few want to work for such bosses today.

Peer factor

Employees with affinity-needs become disengaged when they don’t have good relationships with their supervisors or peers. Incompetent and irresponsible peers are a bane. The disengagement quotient becomes incredibly high when trust has been eroded, relationship is soured, and when self-interest or “turf-guarding” in the team is a way of life.

Personal factor

Last but not least, the personal factor is perhaps the most important factor in understanding employee disengagement.

Former labour chief Lim Boon Heng was blunt when he challenged workers, “Bosses here may be bad motivators, but workers should also take responsibility for their own career development…Workers must also take the reins of their work lives.”

It boils down to our values, our expectations, our personality types, our communication styles and our tolerance for adversity.

Especially in our money-driven society, it is easy to equate our own self-worth with how much we make. If money is our driving value, then we assess and evaluate the organization and people based on how much they can contribute to us financially. We don’t value good relationships. We measure and treat people differently based on their return on our investment.

When our organization goes through tough times, and cuts cost in order to survive, we accuse our leaders of unfair practices, forgetting those good times when we were amply remunerated. We become ingrates.

For others, they may have still not yet managed and readjusted their expectations at work in the new global environment. They are still living in a dreamworld. The good old days are gone. They will have to do more for less, work smarter and more creatively. Self-learning and improvement must be a way of life. They will not survive in the 21st century if they fail here.

This is an adapted excerpt from John’s book “Dim Sum Leadership”. His latest book “Dim Sum Leadership: Your Second Serving” continues the powerful and insightful series on leadership for busy executives.