I am more interested in employee disengagement than employee engagement. The journey of disenchantment intrigues me more, and interests me more, than the whole industry of employee engagement surveys leading to employee engagement Gantt charts and employee engagement workshops.
As self proclaimed armchair scholar of social movements, under the conviction that this field of collective action has more to say about running business organizations than all business schools HR/OD courses, I found here a parallel. Also here there is more written about engagement of people in the movement than its opposite.
I have not hard data to support this hypothesis but my own categorization of the causes of disengagement looks like this:
- The video and the audio don’t match. Suddenly ( or not that suddenly) what I hear saying, not just by the leadership itself but the overall narrative that inundates the place, and what I see, are out of sync, like those videos or TV broadcasts where the mouth of the speaker seem to be in a different planet. This out-of-sync, not-matching does not have to be dramatic. In fact, it is more dangerous when subtle, when recurrent disconnects tell my brain that trust is getting a bit rusty.
- Personal gratification has become insufficient. Monetary or not, (probably not monetary is more often) I am not getting my brain dopamine working as much as before (apologies for the clumsy neurobabble)
- Declining commitment is now socially infected. Look around and you’ll see commitments of many sort going down. A social copying mechanism has kicked off, God knows when, and the new norm for (dis)enchantment is now below threshold. It’s not me, it’s the place, you see?
- Some catalyst event has contaminated the place (and me). Often ‘the event’ has not personal, direct implication. The Head of the Division has been fired, a mini group has left, a written-on-the-wall-for-a-long-time partial restructuring has taken place, and hey, this place is not what it used to be. In my experience, the fact that the place may be now objectively much better matters less than the sense of intrusion, disruption and invasion of the territory.
These, and undoubtedly other factors, may be at the core of disengagement, which, as the above 4 scenarios show are a mixture of (a) personal experience and (b) social contagion.
Standard Employee Engagement surveys, which are constructed for the purposes of generating numerical data from large samples, are notoriously poor in contextual insights. It is usually left to the post-survey results analysis to have a post-hoc frame: of course Finance is low this year, they have their second SVP in a year. Which has the same intellectual strength as saying that the survey was carried out in a particular bad weather week.