The Cost of Disengaged Employees

Decades ago, back in the 50s and 60s, people were grateful to have a job. Somewhere they could go, earn a decent day’s pay and go home to their families for a meal around the table and then a night listening to the radio, watching TV or playing games. Life seemed to be a lot simpler then. These days, however, people require more than a decent day’s pay. We’re all looking for fulfillment. For many, it’s not just enough to have a job, we need to feel engaged in our jobs – and there’s no generation more inclined to this than Millennials. This generation really have their heads together, being raised by parents who have enforced the “you can have anything you want if you work for it” way, and living with technology that’s inundating them with information and education. They are informed, savvy, smart and socially-conscious – in fact, “fair” could be their middle name. They’re also the workforce that’s largest in number (larger than baby boomers) and they’re not good at doing nothing (despite what you might think.) They are masters at multi-tasking thanks to their devices and they are sponges for information. They thrive on being engaged. Perhaps that’s why there’s a lot of talk about employee engagement lately – and the importance of it to an organization’s results. The benefits of employee engagement speak for themselves. Better productivity, better delivery of products/services, better customer experience and a more positive work environment for everyone – meaning better retention of employees and lower recruitment costs. But let’s look at the downsides – and costs – of disengaged employees. Employees that are just doing a job will look to do the least amount in the longest time. They’re more likely to take sick days, they’re more likely to deliver bad customer service and they’re the ones you’ll find napping in a cupboard or under a desk instead of doing what they’re supposed to be. And let’s not talk about spoilage. Disengaged employees are always looking for a better job, because the one they have just doesn’t cut the mustard – and that means higher staff turnover rates for the organization. They’re also likely to be the ones talking – negatively – about your business (and therefore your brand) over a barbecue, over dinner, on the train or bus, or worse on social media – and that’s just plain and simple damaging PR. And, if these people are in front-line customer service roles, you could be in real trouble. In the current decade, you’d think that we’d all have a handle on this – but many businesses are still of the mindset that a pay packet at the end of the week is enough. It isn’t. When we spoke in the 80s of team building and motivation, we had it right. Employee engagement is not much more than that – although there is a lot more now to keeping employees engaged. New and interesting work, allowing contribution and creativity to ideas, giving them free reign to design their work environment, work process and even have a say into the type of products or services you have and/or the way you deliver them will not only engage your people but might give you business ideas you never thought of. You only need take a look at the businesses at the top of the Millenials’ wish lists – businesses like Google and Facebook to see how it’s done. These growing Goliaths of business have “all you can eat” (free!) cafeterias, candy stations, pizza bars, pinball machines even sleep pods. And do you think they have engaged employees – you can bet they do. Of course, the other costs (turnover, loss of productivity, etc) are measurable – but so is a loss in sales due to disengagement – and yet, we never measure it. But what if we did? What would it cost? We’re not sure – but it’s fair to say it could be a very big number. And what if we measured engaged employees – what would that look like? Could we attribute a dollar value to new initiatives, ideas or products that might result from getting your employees engaged. What about a better customer experience, increased sales or a more productive work environment? Why don’t we measure that? The numbers could be staggering. With the new generation of Millenials about to hit the workforce in great numbers, it’s about time we thought about how to truly engage them. Sales targets, a good pay packet and a pat on the back occasionally just isn’t enough anymore. These guys want to contribute and leave a lasting impression. Think of who they’ve got as examples – Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson – people who are ideas men and women, ordinary people doing extraordinary things (remember these guys are all uni dropouts). Rebels with a cause. That’s the mindset. Allow this mindset to flourish in your organization, empower them to make brave decisions and you’ll create a business that can achieve truly phenomenal results and one with a truly engaged and engaging culture.

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