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Domino Effect of Disengagement

October 28, 2016

When in ‘good work’ we are more likely to be engaged employees; adopting the vision and values of the organisation, being focused and enthused about our tasks, sharing ideas, being adaptable and persistent in changing or difficult situations.

Unfortunately, however, many people experience situations that do not match with this. One of the key themes we encounter in our service, whether it’s supporting employers or employees, is disengagement. This can present itself in many forms and lead to a number of issues.

Firstly, let’s consider what is meant by disengagement in the workplace. One way to define disengagement is the lack of enthusiasm and commitment to work or a workplace. Active disengagement can present itself in behaviours such as absenteeism, low energy and poor relationships.
A quick online search of disengagement in the workplace brings up numerous links for issues of disengagement among employees but is it only employees that this affects and what leads to an individual feeling this way?

Consider the example below of a case we have been involved with recently;

Mr A works as a joiner for a large employer in the city. He was signed off from work around a month ago due to an injury to his back caused by a job he was doing. Prior to the injury he had asked his manager for further support as although he’d been qualified as a joiner for some time, he was moved to another contract that required him to complete tasks that he had very little experience of.

Further support was not forthcoming which caused him to develop symptoms of stress and anxiety. He has suffered from this in the past and his employers were aware that he was struggling. After being referred to the company occupational health department and meeting with his manager to discuss a return to work it was determined that Mr A was only suffering from a physical issue and they were very dismissive of his mental health symptoms. Measures were taken to address some of the physical limitations Mr A had in his role but little was done to reassure him that he would be supported to learn the role and reduce his stress and anxiety. Before being signed off his manager opted to start capability procedures further exacerbating his symptoms.

Mr A was referred to SOHAS midway through his absence, he met with an advisor who provided guidance for requesting occupational health support which noted his stress and anxiety. A letter was also drafted providing the employer with recommendations on how best to support him back to work that actively looks to address his mental health to ensure that he’s able to stay well and in work such as carrying out a stress assessment and organising regular supervision.

What do you notice about this situation?
Let’s begin with the employee; Mr A was very open about his concerns moving into a different role and was proactive in requesting help in order to carry out the new tasks. Would he therefore be considered to be an engaged employee? However, he was not offered support which not only led to a physical injury but also had an impact upon his mental wellbeing. What impact is this likely to have when he does return to work? If we think about the organisation as a whole how many other employees are likely to be struggling at work but are reluctant to come forward if the manager is not supportive? This suggests the issue could be greater than just an individual.

The most common reason for disengagement in the workplace is thought to be due to relationships with managers. Managers have a key role to play in engaging and leading their teams and in order to do this effectively they need to be engaged themselves.

According to a Gallup study(1), “Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.”

This is a cause for concern when another report by Gallup(2) suggests that only 35% of managers are engaged in their jobs. (These figures are for managers in the US as there seems to be a lack of data for the UK).

There are a range of factors that can contribute to disengagement among managers and some could be shared across employees at all levels but others are specific to managers. For example, a lack of awareness of the issues that affect employees due to a lack of communication or perhaps similarly to the situation described above talking about the concerns but not acknowledging or acting upon them. This can be due a lack of skills, time, supervision and/or support to be able to deal with issues such as mental health leading to the manager feeling out of their comfort zone.

It is important for organisations to not only encourage open communication among staff at all levels but to investigate and act on issues that arise. This can then lead to increased trust and a supportive network forming in the workplace as opposed to the domino effect of disengagement.

Please do leave any comments as future blog posts will continue to explore other aspects of disengagement.

1. http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/144140/Leading-Engagement-Top.aspx?utm_source=
2. http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/182228/managers-engaged-jobs.aspx

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