Employee Development: The Disengagement Cure


The most competitive and productive companies have the best workers, but when disengagement sneaks in, it can not only take a toll on your productivity, but it can also affect your top talent. According to a recent study by Gallup, engagement was at its highest in 2014 since 2000, yet only 31.5% of employees say they are engaged at work. That leaves more than two-thirds of the workforce either not engaged or actively disengaged. However, the nearly two percentage point increase in engagement in 2014 over 2013 is an encouraging sign. Incidentally, a new surge in corporate spending on employee development and training plans may be the answer to why engagement has increased—and the key to finally curing the disengagement bug in the workforce once and for all.

What is an engaged employee?

Gallup defines employee engagement as being involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to the employee’s work and workplace. An engaged employee is actively involved in ensuring the company’s success, whereas an actively disengaged employee can spread negativity throughout the office and cause some of your best employees to leave. In a BambooHR study highlighted on Inc.com, survey results found that the number one breaking point for employees is the lack of growth within an organization. When employees face an unresolved issue, they either physically quit and leave or mentally quit and stay, causing disengagement. However, the employees who stay with companies longer, remain highly productive, and are engaged in their work are having their wants and needs met when it comes to advancement and growth opportunities—and business leaders are seeing this trend.

Corporate training spending soars

Bersin by Deloitte conducted a study to determine certain trends in the corporate training market and found an upswing in corporate spending toward employee development. According to their report, The Corporate Learning Factbook 2014, spending on corporate training grew by 15% in 2013, its largest growth in seven years. Worldwide, spending on training reached $130 billion and $70 billion in the U.S. alone. The Corporate Learning Factbook found that spending on training first dipped 11% during the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, but has since grown exponentially each subsequent year—all while engagement has slowly grown as well. The correlation between engaged employers and training programs has been apparent for years. With employees spanning all generations wanting career development and training, companies are focusing on providing opportunities to maintain high engagement. As Millennials either start to move into or begin to strive for leadership positions, they are interested in growth and training opportunities—coincidentally, this generation is the least engaged in the workforce.

Millennial focus on the future

According to Gallup, the least engaged generation is Millennials, with only 28.9% of the group engaged at work in 2014, up from 27.5%. Traditionalists are the most engaged with 42.2%, followed by Baby Boomers at 32.7% and Generation X with 32.2%. While it can be inferred that engagement is simply an age factor that grows stronger throughout ones career, it can also be said that Millennials are hardest to keep happy. But happiness may be easier to pinpoint than expected. The employee engagement survey found that Millennials are the least likely to say they “have the opportunity to do what they do best” at work. In other words, a large group of these professionals aren’t being able to use their strengths, talents, and interests in their jobs, which is a key factor causing disengagement. If they aren’t being tapped for their full potential, this younger generation will either stop caring or leave for a company that will.

Curing the Disengagement Bug

Understanding that companies want the most productive employees and employees want to use their strengths within their companies, there is a great opportunity for the issue of disengagement to be dissolved for good. First understanding the wants and needs of each employee will help a company be able to help pave career paths for their workers and start grooming the future leaders of their company. The employee development process can look and feel different for each employee. For example, if a web designer has a knack for words, but is only able to use his or her talents in writing code, the company could set up a cross-training opportunity for the designer to work specifically with marketing to help write copy for a specific site. Another example could be if an accountant enjoys punching numbers, but would like to be head of the department one day, leadership could work out an in-house training program or offer financial guidance for business school to ensure the future of the company will be in strong, loyal, and capable hands.

If employees are leaving their jobs due to lack of job growth and development opportunities, then we know that today’s workforce has a hunger for knowledge and wants to aggressively advance through their career paths. Although this can be harmful to office morale and productivity, the group business leaders really need to worry about is those who are slowly becoming less engaged at work, yet are still coming to work each day. Fight chronic disengagement by getting to fully understand your employees’ wants and needs and begin to institute employee development programs. Your leaders of tomorrow are only going to be as engaged as how you train them today.

How have you implemented employee development plans in your company? Are there specific ways you’ve been able to subdue disengagement within your team? Let us know in the comments section below!

3 Responses to Employee Development: The Disengagement Cure

  1. Richard Gittings August 3, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    When a good employee with potential becomes disengaged. I always ask questions that help me to get to the root of the issue, it’s sometimes not work related, but usually is. If its monetary I give them goals for improvement that will allow them to earn more income. If it’s work related and personnel related I face the situation head on and professionally. Once the issue is cleared up its obvious, you’ll notice an improved attitude and improved production along with a sense of pride taken in their work.

  2. Shirley Burke August 4, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    I think the #1 reason why teamwork fails points to the failure of the team leader to LEAD!

  3. Colin Basye August 4, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    Your comment that “engagement is simply an age factor that grows stronger throughout ones career, it can also be said that Millennials are hardest to keep happy”, points to an observation that I have made with many Millennials:

    Having been brought up in a modern culture that says, “Good Job!” when no job has actually been done, “people need to accept me the way I am”, when lack of achievement is the norm, and “If I don’t like a job or an employee, I’ll just quit” rather than working through the personality issues, Millennials find that “reality” is not the same as high school socialogy class or “mom’s basement”. Hence the unhappiness.

    It takes a few years to get them accustomed to the hard reality of the working world.

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