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Today's Challenge: Hired Hands

Have you ever found yourself working with people who really didn’t seem to care about the assignment at hand or the organization who paid them? I hope not, but I’m guessing you have. This week’s question is: What causes some employees to be disengaged?
If you believe the most recent survey of American workers, the number of disengaged workers has reached epidemic proportions. The cost of allowing this to continue is so high it cannot be calculated – more than just the economic impact, the wasted talent and energy is staggering!
When we allow our workforce to become disengaged, we lose their energy, creativity and discretionary effort. When employee engagement is low, we also lose their head and their heart. What we’re left with are merely hired hands. Hired hands do what they’re told when they’re told to do it.
The truth is, for every pair of hands you hire, you get a free brain. Leaders have to create the context and the environment in which people willingly invest themselves fully. We are responsible for the engagement of our team.
Now, back to the question: What causes some employees to be disengaged? Many factors can come into play. Here are a few of them…
Wrong job – If we select the wrong person, full engagement can be virtually impossible to achieve. Does the person in question have the talent and temperament to do the job at hand with excellence? Do they resonate with the values of the organizations? If the answer to either of these questions is no, don’t expect high levels of engagement.
No line of sight – If people can’t see how and why their work matters, why should they care? Have you established the linkage between the work and the customer? Do people see their work contributing to the mission and vision of the organization? If not, engagement will always be a challenge.
Inadequate resources – Have you ever been asked to do something you don’t have the resources to accomplish? Some leaders believe this breeds creativity – and to a point, that can be true. However, chronic resource shortages send a message to the team and it’s not, “we value creativity.” More often the effect is, “If you don’t care enough about this work to fund it, I don’t care enough to give extra effort.”
No feedback – Feedback drives engagement - not just corrective feedback, positive feedback too! Feedback can manifest itself in several forms: on the job coaching,  encouragement, formal performance reviews and one of my personal favorites - measurement. People love to keep score. If no one is counting, how important can the work really be? Feedback and measurement lift engagement.
This is just a partial list of factors that impact engagement. To complete your own list, I’ll give you the assignment I’ve used in workshops for many years. It’s a two-step process.
Step #1  Think of a time you were fully engaged – it may have been on a sports team, at work, at school, at home, or even while serving a non-profit organization.
Step #2  Ask yourself: “What were the factors that led to my high level of engagement?”
Your answer to the second question will give you clues regarding what you need to do to manage and lift the engagement level of your people.
Here’s the bottom line:

Leaders are responsible for the engagement of our people.

Don’t settle for hired hands – LEAD![GLS_Shield]

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9 years ago

This is great--and I'd agree with all points. However, disengagement is also the product of corporate (and micro-social) culture. More and more employees are becoming "disengaged", perhaps, in the same ways that parents complain of their millennial children being "disengaged" from the family and home.
To add to the factors that describe disengagement I think it would be more thorough to subscribe to the following in addition to the author's (already good) advice:
1. In organizations that have many junior positions, the homogeneity between the "traditional" workforce and the younger generation may be reduced--with claims of "disengagement", disinterest, and an overall lack of self-started motivation being primary causes.
2. What does "disengaged" mean? And who gets the right to say their definition matters? Millennials have a more collaborative approach to solving problems. Are they "disengaged" because they do things differently?
3. Wherein the traditional system of corporate governance and culture has imposed the sacred idea of "company loyalty", workers these days retort. When workers felt like they would be rewarded for their hard work, interest peaked! So, part of me believes that a growing problem with workplace "disinterest" could be explained by the changing expectations of employees who no longer believe their companies will be loyal to them, or provide individually tailored attention or help to enable them to reach their goals.


9 years ago

Thank you, Brent! Excellent points. I do believe there are differences in terminology and definition among the generations. My fear is that many older leaders may not invest enough time to learn the language of the next generations - or worse yet, they may not even try. Regarding what engagement really means, I believe it is best identified by behaviors not labels. When I see an engaged individual, from any generation, they are inquisitive, interested, contributing, passionate and committed to the mission of the team/organization. I've seen this from young and old alike. When I do, it's no accident. It's because a leader has invested the time and energy to make it so. Thanks for contributing to the conversation! Mark

Burke Allen

9 years ago

reat article, I agree, leaders are responsible for creating the environment where employees wantto be engaged. employees also have a responsibility for becoming engaged, leaving their sense of entitlement behind or in most cases learning to live as an adult rather than continuing to live as a child. this article explains my thoughts around this.


9 years ago

Thank you, Burke for joining the conversation and sharing a resource! Mark

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8 years ago

[…] Today’s Challenge: Hired Hands – What do you do to lift the engagement of those you lead? If you do nothing, you’ll sacrifice their greater contribution. For every pair of hands you hire you get a free brain. It’s our job to plug it in. […]


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