Why do people become disengaged in the workplace? No applicant takes a job with a plan to fail. No employer hires with the intent to fire. Both want to succeed. So what happens?
Here’s a not-too-unusual example. The CEO of a 30-year-old successful specialty retail chain wanted to improve the hiring process and raise the bar on customer service. He told us that he wanted to hire people who naturally understand what service means. He felt that training was not the company’s answer. He said, “We have some terrific people. We need more of them.” Was it a question of hiring or retaining and engaging? Were “terrific” people already on board and overlooked?
Our company conducted an on-line survey of front-line workers, supervisors, managers at the store, district, and regional levels, and executives. They were asked questions related to their perceptions of several job positions as well as their view of company effectiveness in several areas, including employee development, recognition, communication, and performance issues.
The results were unexpected. Employees widely disagreed on what particular positions required in behaviors, attitudes, and values in order for a person to be successful. Qualifications for success in that company were based on what exists rather than what is possible. This is like allowing the performance of a second-string team to become the benchmark for top performers on the first team. Often top performers in one company would be only average if placed in the same position in another company.
Another important discovery emerged from that survey. An individual who became a “good employee” was expected to remain at that level without much feedback, recognition, or involvement. The only way to get a raise or recognition was to try to be promoted to the next level, even though the employee might not want to leave a current position.
Final analysis revealed that managers played the most important role in employee retention, development, and satisfaction, yet they were never held accountable for this. A lack of accountability, however, reduced efforts in individual employee development and took focus away from talented employees, letting them do what they had to do rather than motivating them to grow. Lack of accountability became a major cause of disengagement.
These findings pointed out that disengagement in that company was widespread and the result of distorted perceptions about how and why people do what they do and about what workers expect from gainful employment.