Statistical analysis reveals that the drivers of employee disengagement are not all the same as the drivers of employee engagement.
Most of these research studies also find that between 20% and 30% of employees are disengaged, but employee engagement models, as well as activities to increase employee engagement, are usually based on the entire spectrum of employees - both engaged, disengaged, and those "in between" - in a sort of one-size-fits-all approach.
In our latest employee engagement research study
The two lists below show the survey questions that are most highly correlated with overall engagement for the bottom 10% (most disengaged) employees compared to all employees.
See if you can spot the key difference between the most disengaged employees and everybody else.
That's right... Five of the top ten drivers of disengagement relate to "my manager", compared to zero of the top ten when we look across the entire spectrum of all employees!
In other words, poor relationships between employees and their managers are a leading cause, if not the leading cause, of employee disengagement.
The remaining survey questions and associated themes are consistent for both groups - mutual respect, fairness, personal expression, values, and trust are issues that influence engagement levels for all employees, but the most disengaged employees have this additional, dominating theme that we do not see when we look at all employees.
(Research Note: We also looked at engagement drivers for the bottom 20%, the top 20%, and the top 10% of all employees. The statistics were very consistent. The bottom 20% showed the same "my manager" pattern, with three out of the top ten correlates relating to "my manager". For the top 10% and the top 20%, "my manager" items did not even make it into the top twenty correlates.)
If you are used to thinking about employee engagement, your mind probably naturally thinks of things that motivate employees and cause them to be more engaged. When we look specifically at disengaged employees, we need to think a bit differently. We are not looking for what is needed to engage these employees. Rather, we need to think in terms of what is causing these employees to be disengaged.
Thinking about employee disengagement - A shift in mindset
To put it another way - we are not looking for ways to make people happy, but rather, we are looking for ways to stop them from being unhappy. Addressing the things that cause disengagement won't immediately lead to "engaged" employees, but it will make those disengaged employees less disengaged and get them pointed in a more positive and productive direction.
You've probably heard the saying, "People don't quit their jobs; they quit their bosses." Our statistical research on employee engagement supports this. The employees who were surveyed had not yet quit their jobs or their bosses, but no doubt many have done so since the surveys were conducted. Those who remain are unhappy, and they are probably adding little if any value to the organizations they work for.
Employee disengagement and "my manager" - What to do?
Not every disengaged employee is unhappy with his or her manager, but many are, and those employees have the potential to be more engaged and productive. Each employee-manager relationship will have its own unique problems, but there are some concrete steps that can be taken in order to address disengagement issues related to "my manager".
Step One: DiagnosisThe first step is to understand if there is a problem, where the problem lies, and what the nature of the problem is. If you have not done so already, start with an employee engagement survey. Make sure the engagement survey includes items related to employees' relationships with their managers, and that it allows you to segment results by manager, or by some other demographic that is a reasonably good proxy for manager (e.g. by department). Your goal here is to get answers to the following questions:
With answers to these questions in hand, you'll be ready for our next installment, where we expand on our employee disengagement research findings and outline the remaining steps to getting employee-manager relationships back on track.