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6 Clear Reasons Why Employees Are Disengaged

Employee engagement is a fragile bond, hard to build but easy to break.

Management always wants their employees to be highly engaged and productive, and often seems surprised when they’re not. Why aren’t they getting it? Why aren’t they as motivated as I am? senior managers frequently wonder. Indeed, a wide variety of studies, such as Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, which includes more than 350,000 employees, consistently place the number of disengaged employees around the 70% mark. Against this chronically disconnected backdrop, it’s nice to bring some common-sense clarity to the discussion.

Which is why, as I was recently reading The Art of Engagement (McGraw Hill, 2008) by Jim Haudan, CEO of Root Inc., an employee engagement and strategy execution firm, I was pleased to see an unusually employee-centric description of the problem: six clear reasons why your employees aren’t engaged. There can be many reasons, of course, but Mr. Haudan has his finger planted firmly on the pulse of employee angst. Six chapters bear these revealing titles:

I can’t be engaged if I’m overwhelmed.

I can’t be engaged if I don’t get it.

I can’t be engaged if I’m scared.

I can’t be engaged if I don’t see the big picture.

I can’t be engaged if it’s not mine.

I can’t be engaged if my leaders don’t face reality.

That’s about as concise and plainspoken a description as I’ve ever come across of the problems employees face and the challenges managements have.

It reminds us that employee engagement is a fragile bond, hard to build but easy to break.

If your employees – whether you’re a CEO or a line supervisor – are seriously disturbed by any one of these six issues, it’s safe to say they will not be fully engaged, motivated and productive.

To give a bit more feeling for the texture of the book’s content, at the end of the chapter “I can’t be engaged if I’m scared,” the author offers the following insightful “Questions for action.”

- “How safe do your people feel about saying in public what they really believe?” (Personally, I’ve always felt this question is an excellent litmus test for the health of an organization.)

- “Are your people afraid of not being adequate or valuable for the future? How strong is that fear?

- “Is most of the energy of your people vested in protective actions… or in taking the risks necessary to elevate performance?” (Another revealing measure of cultural health.)

- “How well are you doing at giving permission to not be afraid and creating an informal environment?”

As is always the case in these situations, the responsibility for creating a high-performing work environment falls directly to management as the key to employee engagement and productivity. Management that assigns ambitious but realistic workloads. Management that communicates with transparency to all levels what their business is about and how their business is doing. Management that involves employees in the strategy of an organization. Management that leads by example and has complete integrity. (No one ever said management was easy.)

There are many books on management, but I felt this one did an unusually good job getting at, from a grassroots employee perspective, the day-to-day issues that matter most. At the end of the day, being fully cognizant of these issues is foundational to effective management.

This article first appeared at

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Victor is the author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).

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