Employee Disengagement - The Lights Are On But Nobody's Home

Julie Shenkman
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The world of business is changing dramatically. There was a time in corporate America when employees were closely connected with their employers – when they had a sense of corporate loyalty. This is seldom true today. The reason? The old psychological contract between employer and employee has been broken.

There were reasons for breaking the psychological contract - heavy competition, cost pressures, having to do more with less - all of these have impacted most corporate cultures resulting in staff reductions, and higher demands on remaining staff with little or no recognition of their efforts. The result is that employees are ready to leave on short notice for what they perceive to be better opportunities. And the most likely to leave are those who are contributing the most to the business.

Some employers brashly say they will simply replace these employees – there are many available candidates out there who could do the job better. This attitude is one of the main factors driving these employees to leave. And employers making such statements may not realize that they cause employees to leave mentally long before they leave physically – these employees simply disengage.

What is the cost to the business of employee disengagement? One way it can be measured is in declining productivity. People can be working longer hours but accomplishing less because they are no longer committed to results. The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

So what can employers do? Fire them all? They could, but what would happen to the business as a result? What would be the cost of replacing them? There’s a more effective way of addressing the problem. Employers can hold up the mirror and take a good look. The person in the mirror is responsible for breaking the psychological contract. The good news is that he/she also has the power to craft a new contract.

Most disengaged employees truly don’t want to leave. The corporation is like an extended family to them, although a dysfunctional one. They want to be members of the corporate family. The trouble is that most corporate families today are codependent. They operate within an outdated paternalistic (or maternalistic) paradigm of family.

Interestingly, the family relationship paradigm has changed over the last fifty years. Successful families today are no longer paternalistic. They are partnerships, with mom and dad as senior partners and the teenagers as junior partners. Everyone is expected to perform activities that contribute to the success of the family’s goals. There is mutual respect, support and recognition of success, both individually and collectively. The senior partners recognize that the junior partners will eventually go off on their own, and they assist the junior partners’ development so they can achieve their highest potential.

Employers might consider successful families as a model for rebuilding their corporate families, assuring goals and roles are clearly defined, members’ contributions are recognized and rewarded and independence is encouraged.

The world of business is changing. Employers can re-engage employees to make this a change for the better.

JOANNE DUSTIN, Executive Consultant and Coach

Joanne Dustin is a career/life transition coach, an executive coach and an organizational development consultant focused on leadership development, career development, organizational change management, and talent management. Joanne is the founder and principal of three coaching and consulting practices:

Career Lost and Found (http://www.career-lost-and-found.com/), guiding professionals through career/life transitions to a future in which they are fully engaged, living and working with passion and purpose.

Changing Retirement (http://www.changingretirement.com/), enabling organizations and individuals to design and implement dynamic and innovative retirement strategies.

Synergy Consulting Collaborative (http://www.synergyconsultingcollaborative.com/), an association of independent consultants, focused on strengthening organizational effectiveness through employee engagement.

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