Guest Post: The Cost of Employee Disengagement

This is a guest post from Michael Sebastian, PhD.   Find out more information about Michael here.

Anger, fear, depression and fatigue. These are the feelings of many employees today. And those emotions don’t get checked in at the door. A bad economy has many employees feeling stressed out and apathetic about their jobs, resulting in “employee disengagement.”

Employee disengagement is a fairly new business term; it used to be called employee commitment. Once considered one of those ‘touchy feely’ subjects that had many managers rolling their eyes. Today employee disengagement is silently costing US companies billions of dollars. Gallup recently estimated that employee disengagement costs US employers $300 billion every year. This statistic really validates common sense; it stands to reason that employees who are genuinely committed to their employers and jobs are more productive. Engaged or committed employees usually take fewer sick days and generate an average of 43% more revenue. This problem is often ignored because it is difficult to measure, something most managers like to do – can’t measure it can’t manage it right?  But the cost is real and of particularly concern at a time when companies need maximum productivity.

Ignoring the problem is usually bad strategy any time, but particularly when the stakes are so high. Today’s organizational leader has a unique opportunity to reverse this trend. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Be aware of your emotions. What you do, say and, don’t say, communicates. What messages are you communicating? For the sake of the company, if not yourself, confide in friends and family, read books and be aware of the image you’re projecting. Saying and doing nothing also communicates, but probably not the message you’d like.
  • Lead by Example: Demonstrate the importance of work-life balance. Employees are working extra hours out of fear or concern. Demonstrate the importance of work/family balance. Spend time with your family and let your employees know it’s okay to do the same.
  • Be Aware of Your Breathing. Under stress we often take shallow breaths, which only heighten our anxiety. Taking deep breaths can help your focus and reduce stress. This is another of those little things that can make a huge difference.
  • Exercise. The pressure to skip exercise during times like this is enormous. However exercise is a powerful stress reducer that will allow you to function at your best. You might also look into yoga or meditation.
  • Insulate Yourself From Bad News. Don’t feel guilty about walking away from bad news. A person can only take so much doom and gloom before it impacts your attitude. Take time away from bad news to refresh, and remind others and yourself that this is temporary!
  • Gratitude is King: In times like this, gratitude is often one of the first emotions to melt away; yet a heartfelt thank you is exactly what many employees need to hear. Make a conscious effort to recognize good work, and encourage positive behaviors. The dividends are huge and it doesn’t cost a cent.
  • Prioritize & Focus: Risk managers have to do more with less, so regularly prioritize your work. Jettison busy work and let employees clearly know which projects get top priority, and which can get by with ‘good enough.’
  • Candid Meetings. Set aside time with your employees for candid conversations about the current situation, and keep the informal discussions going as long as they’re productive. Unless you clearly state what is going on, people will ‘creatively’ fill in the gaps, and that can create a toxic environment. The only caveat is that you set the proper tone, which is one of solutions. It’s fine to discuss concerns but be aware of excessive complaints that serve no useful purpose.

And perhaps above all else, regularly remind everyone (including you) that this situation is temporary. Good times, and bad, never last forever. Things will get better!

Michael Sebastian has experience as an IT business analyst, project manager, team leader and Chief Information Officer (CIO) at various companies like Arthur Andersen, AT&T, County of San Diego, and TDIndustries.   He holds advanced degrees in business and information technology, is an adjunct professor at Touro University, and a member of Society for Information Management and the Association of IT Professionals.  Michael can be reached at

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