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Engage Disengaged Employees: Proven Strategies

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Amazon caused a storm in 2015 when employees insulted each other over an internal rating system.

In an effort to improve employee engagement, Amazon had introduced an internal review system called "Anytime Feedback" where employees could rate their colleagues whenever they wanted and also report the same to management - while maintaining the Anonymity.

How did it go?

According to a New York Times source, it went like this:

"It's a river of intrigue and intrigue. They described making secret pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once or to praise each other effusively. Many others...described being unidentified by negative comments from others Colleagues with whom they couldn't argue felt sabotaged. In some cases, the criticism was incorporated directly into their performance reviews."

We'd have to agree that Amazon's "Anytime Feedback" tool didn't contribute to a fair, unbiased review. It could have worsened employee culture, productivity and employee engagement.

Before you throw in the towel on employee engagement, let me share a success story that might give you new hope.

There is Hilton, the flagship of the American multinational hotel industry. She had the same idea as Amazon, but hit the mark.

She introduced two initiatives:

  • Catch Me at My Best
  • Spirit of CARE

In the first program, colleagues recognize and acknowledge each other's exceptional achievements. Employees thrived in this workplace where they felt valued for their work and commitment.

In the second program, employees were encouraged to care for one another, highlighting the importance of teamwork and a collaborative environment.

If I had to make a comparison, Hilton would undoubtedly follow Josh Bersin's Simply Irresistible Organizational Model - which I'll discuss later in this blog - but first, let's understand what drives employee engagement.

The most important factors for employee engagement

A 2021 study found that 86% of Millennials would take a pay cut if it gave them the chance to work in their dream job.

But what is an ideal workplace?

Is your job ideal if you work hard? Or if you are successful in your role?

Unfortunately, it is neither one nor the other. While these are parts of an ideal job, they don't necessarily make it ideal.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA, said it perfectly:

"By far the best prize life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."
This brings us to the first main factor of employee engagement:


Many people - including me - have thought about the meaning of their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps that's not so surprising, as the pandemic has encouraged many people to think about what really matters to them. We spend more time on our work, and so it stands to reason that we want to do it.

To put it bluntly: Meaning in work is a feeling of fulfillment that comes from doing meaningful work.

So what is meaningful work?

In short, it is something that is connected to our interests, values, passions and moral compass. Unfortunately, an ideal workplace can be in vain if the second key factor is not present:

2.Psychological safety

Psychological safety does not mean that there are no challenges at work. Rather, it refers to the confidence to put physical, emotional and intellectual effort into work. This is only possible if the work offers appropriate challenges.

Imagine: being able to make mistakes without fear of blame, having an open dialogue, bringing innovative ideas and bringing your whole self to the work.

Interestingly, the last key factor connects the first two.


According to Trade Press Services, effective internal communication motivates 85% of employees.

In short, communication is crucial for personal relationships, feedback, motivation, job satisfaction, recognition and much more.

So what are the main causes of employee dissatisfaction? Stay tuned as we will get into that soon. But before:

Let's say you did something wrong with the drivers of employee engagement, because we are human after all. Then:

How do you recognize the signs of disengagement and how do you deal with them?

What are the chances? I was just diving into this exact topic. So hold on tight because we're going to take a deep dive.

Stages of employee disengagement

May I introduce: everyone.

It used to give him a sense of satisfaction when he completed all his tasks on time. He prioritized his duties over social activities. Allen always ensured the high quality of his work and was a role model for his colleagues.


Before we discuss what went wrong for Allen, let's briefly discuss the phase he was in.

Allen was in the first phase:

1.Active Engagement: Employees in this stage are psychologically connected to their work. Like Allen, they feel a sense of fulfillment in their work. You feel connected to the company's vision, mission and goal. Such employees are always open to criticism and have strong social relationships with their colleagues. In short: Allen sees himself as part of the company's future. Employees in this phase:

  • Focus on solutions
  • View the company's success as their own
  • Complete more than the minimum and assigned duties
  • Help the team succeed
  • Adaptation to changes
  • Show passion for learning

Let's continue Allen's story.

Unfortunately, over time Allen felt that he was no longer enthusiastic about his tasks. He began to think that his work was uninteresting and eventually his work stopped stimulating him. Soon the quality of his work began to decline and he did not feel comfortable discussing this with his colleagues.

As you can see, Allen's engagement continues to decline. We refer to this second phase as:

2.Moderate Disengagement: As with Allen, there is something holding employees back in this phase - feeling disengaged from their work or lack of enthusiasm for their usual tasks. Employees at this stage also remain indifferent to the company's mission. The thought of leaving the workplace will soon cross their minds.

At this stage, employers should act because they exist:

  • Disconnection from work
  • lack of enthusiasm for their tasks
  • Decline in productivity and performance
  • Stagnant innovation
  • Disturbed communication
  • No accountability or ownership
  • Lack of collaboration

Fortunately, Allen has not slipped into the final stage.


Because his manager noticed the change in Allen's work and decided to confront him about it. After some persuasion, Allen decided to have open communication with his manager. His manager, Shirley, explained to him the positive impact his work had on the company. Because of Allen's experience, skills and the number of years he had worked for the company, Shirley offered him the opportunity to lead a small team on a project.

This was the perfect opportunity for Allen because he had always enjoyed leading people. After all, he had always been a role model for his teammates.

What would have happened if Allen's manager Shirley hadn't intervened?

He would have moved on to the last phase mentioned:

3.Active withdrawal: If Allen had slipped into this stage, he would no longer have been happy in his role. It might have spread negatively throughout the organization and negatively impacted the culture. That would also have had consequences:

  • Increased absence and attendance requirements
  • Withdrawal from team interactions
  • Failure to meet the minimum requirements of a role
  • Increased conflicts
  • Look for other employment opportunities

In fact, actively dissatisfied employees cost the company $450-500 billion annually. Dissatisfied employees are a serious threat to companies. How serious is she?

Imagine if there were hundreds of employees who felt like Allen, but were quickly moving toward the final stage of dissatisfaction. Each employee would cost the company an immense amount.

This might lead to the question already asked: What are the drivers of employee disengagement? How can you deal with them?

Employee Disengagement: Causes and Solutions

Did you know that sleepwalkers have broken diets, cheated on their partners, and sometimes even tried to kill themselves?

Actively disengaged employees are like sleepwalkers, only worse. They are contagious.

They invest their time in work but lack desire, zeal and enthusiasm. Disengaged employees spend their time acting out these feelings.

Good profits despite low commitment - is it still worth it?

Will every company with low employee engagement make a loss? And will every company with high engagement see an increase in profits?

To answer the first question: no. Not every company with low employee engagement will see a drop in profits. However, with higher employee engagement this will happen:

The second question: "Will every company with high engagement see an increase in profits?" should also be answered with “no”.

To understand this, we need to look at Korn Ferry’s Engaged Performance Framework. Korn Ferry, a global consulting firm, has introduced “enablement” alongside engagement.

Commitment + Empowerment = Superior Performance

Is “ability” as important as “commitment”?

Yes. Take this comment from an employee survey at Korn Ferry:

"I need support and my manager and his boss are not doing their best to give me it. I am overwhelmed with work and stay here late every night. I believe in the company and think we are one of the good ones in the industry . I like my job despite this situation and think that things will change for the better at some point. But waiting for that moment is a special challenge. I'm almost ready to throw in the towel."

The following statement from Korn Ferry perfectly summarizes what “empowerment” means:

"Most people want to be good at their job and are proud to work for their company. But in most cases they don't get the support they need."

In short, employee empowerment refers to how well equipped they are to perform at their best. If they do not receive the organizational support they need, they will become unmotivated.

To create an environment of empowerment, you need to focus on the following areas:

  • Performance management
  • Authority
  • Empowerment
  • Training
  • Resources
  • Cooperation
  • Career opportunities
  • Organizational structure

How can you ensure both engagement and empowerment exist in the workplace?

You're in luck because the model described below covers both.

Simply irresistible organizational model - improving employee engagement in the workplace

Is this model irresistible?

No. It's the company that becomes irresistible when it creates a meaningful, humanistic work environment - and makes people want to work for it.

This model was introduced by Josh Bersin, an industry analyst, to drive engagement success.

It helps take action by examining what element is missing.

Simply Irresistible Organization is not just a model, but a mindset that employers should adopt - to create a humanistic workplace.

1.Meaningful work

Meaningful work is perhaps the most important element. Going back to the first factor for employee engagement, meaningful work is the key to finding meaning in work.

Imagine: you work because you want to create something bigger than yourself.

Meaningful work is made up of 4 categories:

  • When you give your employees the freedom to bring their own passion to work, you are essentially practicing a discipline called job crafting. We all want to design our work ourselves - the way we think is right. Of course, you should give employees guidelines and strategies to follow, but research shows that employees who are given autonomy are more successful.
  • Do you know the success factors of a task? Do you really understand why one person can succeed while others fail? Do you have a process for hiring people who will be successful? Answer these questions and you'll have mastered the second category of meaningful work - selecting based on aptitude.
  • The third category is teamwork. People feel comfortable when they work together and get to know each other. As a result, people feel close to their team and any problems in the company seem small.
  • Give employees additional time to learn, talk to each other and reflect.

2.Great management

What makes good management?

As explained in the section above, employee engagement is best linked to employee empowerment. Great management creates an environment that helps employees do their best work.

  • First, set clear, SMART goals. Set small, clear and measurable goals - while ensuring that both you and your employees know what good performance looks like. Additionally, good leaders should have the experience and judgment to provide a sense of purpose. Regular conversations are key to setting and aligning goals.
  • A supportive environment or employee empowerment includes coaching and feedback. Listen to employees' needs, support their efforts, and provide positive feedback for improvements. Try to be as positive as possible and save the criticism if you know employees are willing to hear it.
  • Becoming an experienced leader requires years of experience, coaching, assessments and development tasks. Companies should invest time, money and effort in the ongoing development of leaders. And why? Stay tuned, we will discuss this in the 6th element.
  • Modern performance management. Establish a process of regular checks and data-driven reviews. Managers should also have the opportunity to receive feedback and input from their employees. Companies should reinvent the employee appraisal process and implement a continuous performance management process.

3.Fantastic working environment

Can a company even be irresistible if its work environment isn't fantastic?

A great work environment is characterized by employees being absorbed in their work and feeling fulfilled. These are the 4 elements that make up a positive work environment:

  • Companies should create a flexible working environment, they should allow different working methods, create an innovative space, be outdoors, and so on.
  • Create a humanistic workplace. This can include a pet-friendly workspace, free food, fitness activities, yoga classes, laundry services, etc. These are no longer just perks, but they help us balance work with our lives.
  • A culture of recognition is an effective tool for employee retention. Some companies do this through social reward systems, regular thanks, and appreciation of all employees at the hierarchical level. Create an environment in which appreciation is passed on from colleague to colleague.
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belongingness (DEIB) is a corporate strategy to create a fair working environment. Look beyond demographic parity to achieve diversity of thought.

4.Growth opportunities

Let's face it: if we don't feel like we're progressing in our careers, we'll probably look for that opportunity elsewhere.

A McKinsey survey shows that 41% of employees leave their jobs due to a lack of opportunities for advancement and growth.

A compelling organization not only provides opportunities for growth but also enables easier talent mobility. It provides support from leadership and human resources. This is one of the strongest drivers of employee engagement. Below are the items:

  • Companies that give their employees the opportunity to learn while working have at least 30% higher employee retention. Create a culture of self-directed learning.
  • Not everyone in the company gets promoted every year, but employees want to feel like they can grow and take on new tasks. Management should give employees the freedom and support to change roles and try new things. This is called internal talent mobility.
  • Create a culture of learning by rewarding learning and development. This promotes learning behavior. In addition, managers must be encouraged to develop employees and place them in the best position.
  • Make sure you create development opportunities and encourage employees to take on challenging tasks. How employees are trained and supported is crucial.


Every employee is a person whose private life and work intertwine and influence each other. Employers should try to listen to employees because their health and well-being are the hallmarks of a high-performing culture. Employee well-being is of great importance, especially after the pandemic. This includes:

  • Whether employees are working remotely or from the office, employers should adopt a human resources strategy that promotes employee safety and well-being.
  • What stops people is psychological safety and mental health. Create a space where employees can express their feelings - when they're upset, happy, or can't meet their deadlines.
  • When employees feel unwell or are distracted by personal, physical or financial issues, their productivity decreases. Employee well-being should be considered an essential employee engagement strategy.

6.Trust in leadership

What inspires you to contribute? Is it your company’s mission? Financial benefits? Personal gain?

To become a compelling organization, leaders must inspire their employees with a mission they can identify with and trust their employees to make the right decisions.

As described in the second element, training and supporting managers is crucial - because they will later become managers.

You can achieve trust in leadership with these elements:

  • Communicate your purpose, mission and vision. It starts at the top, when leaders tell their story with a strong sense of mission to achieve innovation and employee retention.
  • Open, transparent communication is essential to gaining employee trust in leadership. Be open, whether it's big profits or workplace accidents.
  • Invest in your employees to continuously develop them. Companies that do this regularly outperform their competitors in terms of profitability, employee retention or customer satisfaction.
  • Be inspiring and future-oriented. Leaders’ actions make employees feel inspired and believe they are part of something bigger. Talk about the future of the company and share what the company's vision and mission means to each employee.

We have now explored the 6 elements that make a company irresistible. Remember, it all starts with offering meaningful work.

Now you may be asking yourself: How do you know whether your employees find their work meaningful?

In summary, employee engagement is vital for organizational success. To achieve it, companies must focus on meaningful work, supportive management, a positive work environment, growth opportunities, employee well-being, and trust in leadership. Utilizing tools like IceHrm can help streamline these efforts, resulting in a more engaged and productive workforce.

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