The Dangers of Disengagement—and Its Likely Cause

Have you ever felt yourself slipping into an apathetic haze at work, too bored, uninspired or beaten down to bother?

According to Gallup, nearly a quarter of employees around the globe are actively disengaged. That translates to bottom-line losses in the trillions. Not only are companies paying for sagging productivity by disengaged employees, but they’re also missing out on the benefits of having highly engaged powerhouses on their team.

What Causes Employee Disengagement?

What is one of the top causes of employee disengagement? You can probably guess. Whether you call them incompetent, narcissistic, psychopathic or straight-up evil, bad bosses shoulder much of the blame.

A recent Gallup article titled The Damage Inflicted by Poor Managers explores the consequences of lousy leadership—a subject we have examined in past articles (see sidebar).

Coauthors Marco Nink and Jennifer Robison note that in comparison with disengaged teams, engaged teams are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable; suffer 41% less absenteeism and 70% fewer accidents; and experience up to 59% less turnover, 28% less waste and 10% higher scores from customers.

At 24%, disengaged employees practically double the number of engaged employees (13%). That’s like having a bunch of anchors attached to a handful of balloons. It’s tough for an organization to achieve performance goals with that kind of ballast weighing it down.

The answer isn’t axing the disengaged employees, though. If the cause is bad leadership, the replacement hires will simply become the next crop of disengaged employees, creating a perpetual and costly cycle of turnover.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Bad Leaders?

When the problem starts at the top, that’s where we need to focus our attention. In another Gallup article, Nink and Robison ask, Can Bad Managers Be Saved?

Falling into a management role without proper preparation can transform decent folks into petty tyrants as they attempt to compensate for insecurity about their lack of leadership skills. Or they may be perfectly nice individuals engaging in poor management habits without realizing it. They might even have untapped leadership talents that simply haven’t been identified or developed.

As Steve Keating discusses in his piece Managing Stuff, Leading People, people often get promoted to management positions because they excelled in their previous roles—often having nothing to do with leadership. Just because a software engineer is brilliant at designing algorithms doesn’t mean she’s strong at leading a software development team—in fact, it’s frequently the opposite.

Not all bad bosses are beyond redemption. It takes astute judgment to determine which managers have the potential for growth and which ones will continue to flail. In our next article, we’ll examine some strategies companies can adopt to ensure their leaders are motivating engagement rather than provoking disengagement.

Need Some Advice?

Whether your organization is struggling with disengagement, ineffectual leadership or low performance, Chris Cook can help. Email her at or call 541.601.0114 to find out how.

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