Employee Engagement

Why Employees Are Less And Less Engaged (& What You Can Do About It)


Employee engagement is on a downward slope. According to data research firm Quantum, employee engagement has dropped 3% just in the last two years, with nearly four in ten employees saying they’re not engaged with their work. So what gives? As an employer, this can be an intimidating subject to broach, and one that inherently feels personal.

You may be thinking, “If my employees aren’t engaged, there must be something wrong with me.” And when your confidence begins to dip, that’s a recipe for disaster. There’s no telling exactly what is causing your employees to disengage from their work. But thankfully, years of studying this subject have led to some common diagnoses–and in turn, some genuinely helpful advice.

Below, we’ve highlighted some of the major reasons your employees may more broadly be disengaging from their work. And with that, there are some surprisingly simple and cost-effective ways for you to boost your employees’ engagement and get them back on the path to productivity.  

Leadership MIA

While it’s not always personal, there are instances where a lack of engagement can, in fact, be traced up to problems with leadership. It may be tempting to think that as a business leader, your days in the trenches are behind you—that while you’re focused on strategy, investing serious hours and sweat in the growth of your company, your employees should be able to handle the grind on their own.

You’re not wrong, but it’s important for employees to still feel as though you’re invested in their work. Their time on the clock can’t just be considered punching a ticket—truly engaged employees feel a sense of ownership in their work, and mutual investment in their employer. Putting it into perspective, Julie Moreland, writing for Fast Company, says “Acting more as a ‘chief influencer’ rather than a chief executive is in management’s best interest as well as an employee’s because it causes employees to respond in a positive and proactive way to their work challenges.”  

Lack of Performance Management

When was the last time you enjoyed the performance review process? Has your company tried to give it a sexier name like “performance audit” or “annual checkup”?

For starters, neither of those are very sexy names. But secondly, a name change isn’t going to solve the problem. In an age where we have quantifiable data for every KPI you can dream of, the temptation is to simply audit or appraise their employee—tell them what they’re doing wrong or right, and then move on expecting a better performance. This, unfortunately, is not true performance management, and hurts engagement in the long run. Talent Management 360 defines Performance Management as such: “What performance management does is take that process [of appraisal] up several notches to proactively manage employee performance so that it aligns with and accomplishes the overall vision, mission, goals, objectives and strategies of the organization.” With performance management, you’re not just telling an employee what they did or did not do well.

You’re helping them to see their vision in the company and how their work aligns to your KPIs and core values. And with that, you’re giving them the opportunity to engage at a deeper level, rather than just feeling good or bad about the work they’re doing that day.  

Poor Communication

Have you ever had to have a meeting or conversation about another conversation? Maybe it was a quick one-on-one with your manager about an email thread that didn’t make sense to one of you—only to be quickly resolved with a simple clarification that could’ve been done over Slack. Those meetings may feel good to resolve, but they’re a huge waste of time. Shouldn’t we be getting something as foundational as communication right on the first time?

Bad communication isn’t just a problem for your office, it’s a deadly disease for any company. Think about it this way: when someone’s signing on to work for your company, they’re buying into your vision. If you don’t communicate that vision clearly from the get-go, your employee could quickly deviate from the path you thought they were on. That affects everything from work goals, to management style—and that’s an easy recipe for someone to immediately disengage with their work.  

Unclear Goals

And extending out of that habit of bad communication, if an employee is not bought into your vision, they’re certainly not going to have solid goals for their work—other than “show up.” Oracle created an extensive whitepaper on the value of goal-setting, and concluded that “The organization that makes it a priority to develop quality, effective goals will succeed in its performance management, in its business in general, and in developing its employees’ skills and confidence.” That’s a pretty solid endorsement coming from one of the most successful software companies in the world. It makes perfect sense that an employee who doesn’t have long-term goals wouldn’t be engaged with their work.

After enough time and repetition, even the most exciting tasks can start to seem just like status quo. And if you’re just doing the same thing over and over again, with no goal in sight other than “doing it,” you’re not going to be motivated to grow or excel. You’re going to be left with someone in it to just punch the clock.

If you want to create a culture of excellence at your organization, you need to equip your team with something to strive for. And whether that comes through posting live leaderboard rankings every week, or gamifying your sales quotas, it’s on you to help your employees see and achieve their goals. And through that, you’ll see a huge spike in how engaged they become with that same work.  

Zero Inspiration

And finally, it’s just nice to be inspired. Like the importance of having a goal to strive for, if an employee is not inspired by their managers, or the organization itself, they’ll have no desire to set goals within that company. Stopping the trend of rapidly disengaging employees starts with creating a vision. A vision for each and every employee to hold on to that they can achieve everything they want to for their careers—and they can do it within your organization. When you prove that kind of investment in your employees’ future, and they can genuinely buy into it, you’ll be creating a team of top performers who can truly thrive.