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Is your employee disengaged? Here’s what you can do

25 min read


disengaged employee

Amazon created a whirlwind back in 2015 as employees reportedly slammed each other through an internal review system.

In an effort to improve employee engagement, Amazon had launched an internal review system called “Anytime Feedback,” where employees were free to evaluate their peers whenever they felt – while also reporting it to the management – maintaining anonymity.

How did it go?

This is how it went, according to a source from New York Times:

“It’s a river of intrigue and scheming. They described making quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once, or to praise one another lavishly. Many others… described feeling sabotaged by negative comments from unidentified colleagues with whom they could not argue. In some cases, the criticism was copied directly into their performance reviews.”

We may have to agree that Amazon’s “Anytime Feedback” tool did not help in fair, unbiased evaluations. It may have worsened employee culture, productivity, and employee engagement.

Before you throw in the towel on employee engagement, let me share a success story that might reignite your hope.

There’s Hilton, a flagship brand of American multinational hospitality. It bore the same idea of Amazon but hit the mark.

It implemented two initiatives:

  • Catch Me at My Best
  • Spirit of CARE

In the first program, colleagues spot and acknowledge exceptional efforts of each other. Employees thrived in this workplace where they felt valued for their work and dedication.

In their second program, employees were encouraged to care for each other, and this underscored the importance of teamwork and a collaborative environment.

If I had to compare, Hilton undoubtedly followed Josh Bersin’s Simply Irresistible Organizational Model – which I will discuss later in this blog – but before that, let’s understand what drives employee engagement.

Key drivers of employee engagement 

A 2021 study revealed that 86% of millennials would accept a pay cut for a chance to work at their ideal job.

But what is an ideal job?

Is your job ideal when you are working hard? Or when you are successful in your role?

Unfortunately, it’s neither. While these are parts of an ideal job, they don’t necessarily make it ideal.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA said it perfectly:

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

This brings us to the first primary driver of employee engagement:

1) Purpose

Many people – including me – reflected on their life’s purpose during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe it’s not so surprising since the pandemic has inspired many people to reflect on what it is that’s truly important to them. We spend more time on the job, so it would make sense that you would want to enjoy doing it.

Cutting to the chase: purpose in work is a sense of fulfillment arising from doing meaningful work.

Now, what is meaningful work?

In short, it’s something that connects with our interests, values, passions, and our moral compass. Unfortunately, an ideal job may be for nothing if not for the second key driver:

2) Psychological safety

Psychological safety doesn’t mean there are no challenges in work. In fact, it refers to the confidence to put physical, emotional, and intellectual effort into work. This is only possible when work offers adequate challenges.

Imagine: Being able to make mistakes without fear of recrimination, having open dialogue, introducing innovative ideas, and bringing your whole self to work.

Interestingly, the last key driver connects the top two.

3) Communication

Effective internal communications motivate 85% of employees, according to Trade Press Services.

In short, communication is essential for personal connections, feedback, motivation, job satisfaction, recognition, and much, much more.

Now then, what are the key drivers of employee disengagement? Stay around, because we are going to discuss it soon. But before that:

Let’s say you did go wrong somewhere with the drivers of employee engagement, because we are humans after all. Then:

How do you identify the signs of disengagement and handle it?

What are the odds? I was just about to dive into the very same topic. So, hold on tight because we are going to dive deep.

Stages of employee disengagement

Meet Allen.

He used to get a sense of satisfaction from completing all his tasks on time. He prioritized his tasks before committing to social activities. Allen always ensured high quality of work and served as a role model for his fellow colleagues.


Before we discuss what went wrong with Allen, let us quick dive a bit into the stage he was in.

Allen was in the first stage:

1) Active engagement: Employees in this stage are psychologically connected to their work. Just like Allen, they feel a sense of fulfillment in their work. They feel connected to the company’s vision, mission, and purpose. Such employees are always open to criticism and experience strong social relationships with their peers. Concisely, Allen was seeing himself as part of the company’s future. Employees in this stage:

  • Focus on solutions
  • View the company’s success as their own
  • Perform more than bare minimum and assigned responsibilities
  • Assist team to succeed
  • Adapt to change
  • Display passion for learning

Let’s continue Allen’s story.

Unfortunately, as time passed, Allen started to feel a lack of excitement in his tasks. He began thinking his work was uninteresting, and eventually, his work stopped stimulating him. Soon, his quality of work started declining, and he did not think it was good to discuss this with his peers.

As you can see, Allen’s engagement is steadily declining. This second stage is what we call:

2) Moderate disengagement: Like Allen, something holds employees back in this stage – from feeling a connection to their work or a lack of enthusiasm in their usual tasks. Employees in this stage will also stay indifferent to the company’s mission. Thoughts of leaving their job will soon start clouding their mind.

At this stage, employers should act because there is:

  • Disconnection from work
  • Unenthusiasm about their tasks
  • Decline in productivity and performance
  • Stagnant innovation
  • Strained communication
  • No accountability or ownership
  • Lack of collaboration

Fortunately, Allen did not slip into the last stage.


Because before he did, his manager noticed the change in Allen’s work and decided to approach him. With a bit of nudging, Allen decided to have open communication with his manager. His manager, Shirley, explained to him the positive impact his work had on the organization. Owing to Allen’s experience, skill, and the number of years he worked for the organization, Shirley offered him the opportunity to lead a small team for a project.

This was the perfect opportunity for Allen, because he had always loved leading people. He had always been a role model to his teammates, after all.

Now, what would have happened if Allen’s manager, Shirley, hadn’t intervened?

He would have progressed into the last stage called:

3) Active disengagement: If Allen had slipped into this stage, he would have no longer been happy in his role. He may have spread negatively within the organization, adversely impacting the culture. There also would have been:

  • Increased absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Withdrawals from team interactions
  • Failing to meet minimum requirements of a role
  • Increased conflicts
  • Seeking other employment opportunities

In fact, employees who are actively disengaged cost the company $450-500 billion per year. Employee disengagement is a serious threat to organizations. How serious is it?

disengaged employee

Now, imagine hundreds of employees like Allen but only rapidly moving to the last stage of disengagement. Each employee would cost the company immensely.

This may lead to the question asked earlier: What are the drivers of employee disengagement? How to handle them?

Employee disengagement: Causes and solutions

Did you know that sleepwalkers have broken diets, cheated on their partners, and sometimes even attempted to kill?

Actively disengaged employees are like sleepwalkers, but worse. They are contagious.

They put their time into the job, but there is no desire, eagerness, or excitement. Disengaged employees spend their time acting out these feelings.

This influences other employees, ultimately affecting their engagement as well.

The following are what induce these behaviors along with solutions:

Bad working relationshipsEncourage employees to work together on projects they are accountable for.
Boredom in current roleConduct formal training programs or encourage them to take on new challenges.
Stressful work environmentCreate a flexible work environment like generous time-off, vacation policies, work from home, etc.
Little clarity on the impact of workCommunicate the company’s goals and how an employee’s work contributes.
Toxic work cultureConduct regular check-ins to identify and address any complaints on harassment, micromanagement, etc.
Poor leadershipCreate a culture that values all aspects of employee positions. 
Lack of recognition & rewardsConduct surveys if employees feel recognized and implement a recognition program.
Lack of growth opportunitiesDevelop L&D initiatives and encourage managers to give their people new responsibilities.
Personal issuesOffer flexible work arrangements, wellness plans, parental leave policies, and other benefits.
Inadequate feedbackEncourage managers to provide guidance about employee strengths and potential improvements.
Minimal autonomyTrain managers to empower their teams. 
Inadequate payConduct regular compensation reviews or adopt non-monetary rewards to keep employees engaged

No organization is perfect, but should companies really invest time and effort into building employee engagement?

In the example presented at the beginning, Amazon may have had low engagement, but it had decent profitability despite it, so it’s fine.

Or is it?

Good profits despite low engagement levels – Is it still worth it?

Will every company with low employee engagement face losses? And will every company with high engagement see a lift in the bottom line?

To answer the first question, no. Not every company with low engagement levels will see a hit in its bottom line. However, with increased employee engagement, it will observe:

statistics of employee disengagement

Coming to the second question, “Will every company with high engagement see a lift in the bottom line?” the answer is also ‘no’.

To understand, we will have to explore Korn Ferry’s Engaged Performance Framework. Korn Ferry, a global consulting firm, introduced ‘enablement,’ alongside engagement.

Engagement + Enablement = Superior performance  

Is ‘enablement’ as important as ‘engagement’?

Yes. Consider this comment drawn from an employee opinion survey at Korn Ferry:

“I need support and my manager, and his boss are not doing their best to provide it. I’m inundated with work, and I end up staying here late each night. I believe in the company and think we are one of the good guys in the industry. I like my job despite this situation and think the situation will change for the better eventually. But waiting for that time to come is particularly challenging. I’m almost ready to throw in the towel.”

The statement below shared by Korn Ferry perfectly sums up what ‘enablement’ means:

“Most people want to do well in their jobs and take pride in working for their companies. But more often than not, they do not get the support they need.”

In short, employee enablement refers to how equipped employees are – allowing them to perform the best. If they do not get the organizational support they need, they become disengaged.

To create an environment of enablement, these are the areas you need to focus on:

  • Performance management
  • Authority
  • Empowerment
  • Training
  • Resources
  • Collaboration
  • Career growth opportunities
  • Organizational structure

How do you make sure both engagement and enablement exist in the workplace?

You are in luck, because the model discussed below covers both.

Simply Irresistible Organization Model – Improving employee engagement in the workplace 

Is this model irresistible?

No. It’s the organization that becomes irresistible when it creates a meaningful, humanistic work environment – making people love to work for them.

This model was introduced by Josh Bersin, an Industry Analyst, to drive engagement success.

It helps take a course of action by investigating which element is missing.

Simply Irresistible Organization is not just a model, but a mindset employers should adopt – to create a humanistic workplace.

These are the 6 simple elements to make your organization irresistible:

organizational model

1. Meaningful work

Meaningful work is perhaps the most crucial element. Circling back to the first driver of employee engagement, meaningful work is key to establish purpose in work.

Imagine: Working because you want to create something larger than yourself.

Meaningful work is made up of 4 categories:

  • When you grant people the freedom to bring their own passion to work, you are essentially practicing a discipline called job crafting. We all want to craft our jobs – doing work the way we think best. Of course, people should be given guidelines and strategies to be followed, but research shows that when employees are given autonomy, they thrive.
  • Do you know the success drivers of a role? Do you truly understand why one person may succeed while others may fail? Do you have a process to recruit people who will succeed? Answer these questions, and you will have mastered the second category of meaningful work – selection for fit.
  • The third category is teamwork. People also thrive when they work together and get to know each other. Consequently, people feel close to their team and any issues in the company seem small.
  • Give employees extra time to learn, talk to each other, and reflect.

2. Great management

What makes a great management?

As we discussed in the above section, employee engagement is best alongside employee enablement. Great management is that which creates an environment of enablement, helping people perform at their best.

  • Firstly, prioritize setting clear, SMART goals. Set small, clear, and measurable goals – while also ensuring that both themselves and employees are aligned on what good performance looks like. Also, good managers should have the experience and judgment to give a sense of purpose. Regular conversations are key to setting and aligning goals.
  • A supportive environment, or employee enablement, involves coaching and feedback. Listen to employee needs, support their efforts, and give positive feedback for improvement. Try to be as positive as possible and save the criticism when you know people are ready to hear it.
  • It takes years of experience, coaching, assessments, and developmental assignments to become a seasoned manager. Companies should spend time, money, and effort to continuously develop managers. Why? Stick around, we are going to discuss this in the 6th element.
  • Modern performance management. Adopt a process of regular check-ins and data-driven reviews. Managers should also have an opportunity to gain feedback and input from people. Companies should reinvent the process of evaluating employees and adopt a continuous performance management process.

3. Awesome work environment

Can an organization even be irresistible if its work environment isn’t awesome?

An awesome work environment is where employees thrive in their work and feel fulfilled. These are the 4 elements that make a positive work environment:

  • Organizations should adopt a flexible work environment – as in accommodating different modes of work, creating an innovative space, outdoors, and so on.
  • Create a humanistic workplace. This may include a pet-friendly workplace, free food, fitness activities, yoga classes, laundry services, etc. These are not just perks anymore, they help us fit work into our lives.
  • A culture of recognition is a powerful employee engagement tool. Some companies do this through social reward systems, regular thank-you sessions, and appreciating everyone at the hierarchical level. Create an environment where appreciation flows from peer to peer.
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belongingness (DEIB) is a business strategy to create a fair work environment. Look beyond demographic parity to produce diversity of thinking.

4. Growth opportunity

Let’s be real: If we don’t feel we are going to progress in our career, we are likely to look for this opportunity elsewhere.

A McKinsey survey reveals that 41% of employees quit their jobs because of a lack of career advancement and growth.

An irresistible organization doesn’t just provide growth opportunities, it enables facilitated talent mobility. It provides support from the leadership and HR. This is one of the strongest drivers of employee engagement. The following are its elements:

  • Organizations that let people learn on the job have at least 30% better retention rates. Create a culture of self-directed learning.
  • Not everyone in the company will be promoted every year, but they want to feel that they are progressing and can take on new responsibilities. Management should provide the freedom and support for people to move from a role and try new things. This is called internal talent mobility.
  • Build a culture of learning by rewarding learning and development. This encourages learning behaviors. Additionally, managers must also be encouraged to develop and move people into the best role.
  • Make sure you design developmental opportunities and encourage employees to take on challenging assignments. It’s crucial how employees are being trained and supported.

5. Well-being

Each employee is a human whose personal life and work intertwine and affect each other. Employers should try to listen to employees, as their health and wellbeing is the hallmark of a high-performing culture. Especially after the pandemic, employee well-being has taken the front seat. It includes:

  • Regardless of whether employees are working remotely or from the office, employers should pursue a workforce strategy that elevates employee safety and wellbeing.
  • What holds people up is psychological safety and mental health. Create a space where employees can express their feelings – if they are upset, happy, or cannot meet their deadlines.
  • If employees show up unwell or distracted by personal, physical or financial problems, their productivity goes down. Employee wellbeing should be treated as an essential strategy for employee engagement.

6. Trust in leadership

What inspires you to contribute? Is it your company’s mission? Financial benefits? Personal gain?

To become an irresistible organization, leaders must inspire employees with a mission they can relate to and trust their people to make the right decisions.

As discussed in the second element, training and cultivating managers is crucial – because they become leaders later on.

You can achieve trust in leadership with these elements:

  • Communicate your purpose, mission, and vision. This starts from the top, as leaders tell their story with a strong sense of mission to achieve innovation and employee retention.
  • Open, transparent communication is vital to get people to trust leadership. Whether it’s great earnings or industrial accident, be open about it.
  • Invest in people to continuously develop employees. Organizations that do this regularly outperform their competitors in terms of profitability, retention, or customer satisfaction.
  • Be inspirational and futuristic. It is through the leadership’s actions that employees feel inspired and believe that they are a part of something bigger. Talk about the company’s future and share what the company’s vision and mission means for each employee.

We have now explored the 6 elements that make an organization irresistible. Remember, it all starts from providing meaningful work.

Now, you might ask: How do you know if your employees find their work meaningful?

The only partner you need for creating thriving workplaces 

As we discussed in the key drivers’ section, communication is essential – either to provide meaningful work or ensure psychological safety. It all starts with communication and understanding how employees feel. Keka’s pulse surveys give your people a voice, and a space to help you understand them better. We believe in deploying a continuous listening strategy to ensure an awesome employee experience.


Table of Contents

    Meet the author

    Nikitha Joyce

    Content Writer

    Nikitha Joyce is a content writer at Keka Technologies. She loves exploring HR topics and turning them into thrilling tales. Nikitha is a dark fiction enthusiast who is a fan of anime, books, and horror tales.


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