Wednesday, June 06, 2012

What Causes Talented And Engaged Employees To Give Up?

This article has a great quote and a word of warning to workplace leaders, “Once-engaged employees who are now disengaged can cause more harm to a company than those who were never engaged.”


It varies slightly from time to time and from country to country and, even, industry to industry but, let’s say roughly, research shows that 26% of employees are engaged & 28% actively disengaged. The 28% is bad enough but that missing 46% are ambivalent. It’d be easy and understandable for workplace leaders to target their efforts at improving or managing out the disengaged. Or even considering that the biggest bang for their buck and time and effort would be investing in better engaging the ambivalent middle 46% who merely show up. That’s not a bad idea but it should NOT be done at the expense of the highly engaged who are choosing to apply discretionary effort at work.

For a start, if the ones you’re trying to move up into the engaged group see how you’re failing to support the engaged group, that’s likely to be self-defeating for you. Personally, I believe that people who are engaged are far more likely to be self-motivated at work and in life generally by the pursuit of greater autonomy, development towards mastery in skills and movement towards some sense of purpose. If you just get out of their way, you’re unlikely to be able to diminish those drives that exist within them. However, if you’re short-sighted and inobservant, you could chip away at their abilities to pursue those self drivers.

They would most likely leave but, in the meantime, would they become a worse contributor to your workplace than if they’d never been engaged in the first place?
The article quotes findings from research conducted by Florida State University College of Business. “Model employees committed to their organisation are willing to go the extra mile to see it thrive but can give up if they sense that they’re being asked to do more and more, and with fewer resources, while comparatively little is being asked of their less-engaged colleagues.”

I doubt that a truly engaged person would sulk and withdraw but it’s never a good idea to reward poor performers and punish good performers, even if it is easy to do in the short term. How many newbie team leaders find themselves saying something like, “Hey great job. Can you finish this task that someone else couldn’t?” Maybe if that’s only an occasional occurrence and if it’s handled well and if there’s something in the extra work that appeals to the top performer being ‘rewarded’ with more work, that scenario might be OK. Maybe.

But, over time , if that’s all there is for the engaged top performer, I can see some resentment potential. It might cause them to leave but they won’t turn on you nor will they give up. They’ll simply give up ON YOU. But the things a leader can do (or not do) that will contribute to the talented and engaged employees giving up are anything that messes with those core drivers of the pursuit of greater autonomy, development towards mastery in skills and movement towards some sense of purpose.

Ideally, employees should be like the judges at Olympic ice skating with their little scorecards ready to hold up every time you ‘perform’ as their leader. But they don’t. They’d probably end up with repetitive strain injury anyway…

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