How and Why Your Best Employees Become Disengaged Over Time

How do you create an organization that motivates all your employees to bring their A game everyday?

To answer the question, it’s helpful to know what might be causing employees who once cared about your organization to stop caring. In this post, we’ll shed some light on how and why even your best employees can become apathetic or disengaged over time. This blog post is an excerpt from our e-book Getting Real About Employee Engagement. Download your copy here.

A lack of purpose is more detrimental to employee satisfaction than low pay

If you think that your employees are unhappy primarily because they want to be paid more, you may want to think again.

PayScale conducted research to discover the formula for a winning company culture, and found that extrinsic factors — including pay — only go so far in motivating people. Instead, an individual’s outlook on their company and whether they feel appreciated in their role matter most.

The number one reason employees stop caring about their organization is that they no longer feel like their work serves a purpose. They have no idea how their individual tasks are contributing to key organizational objectives — because no one has bothered to tell them what the company’s priorities and goals are, or recognized them for a job well done.

Many times, the leaders of the organization haven’t done the work of telling their employees the story of why their business exists and the purpose the business serves. Leaders are too busy to take the time to recognize their employees. Alternately, employees may be able to recite an organization’s mission and values by heart, but the values don’t ring true to them because they don’t see leaders behaving in a manner that is consistent with the brand’s stated values.

Alignment is missing


If you’ve recently noticed that one of your top performers no longer approaches her work enthusiastically, it’s probably because she’s out of alignment.

Employees do their best work and feel most satisfied when there is perfect alignment of three elements: competency, passion and organizational need.

In an ideal world, all of your employees are in jobs where they can use their strengths to the fullest, can throw themselves full-heartedly into their work each day and can be 100 percent aligned with your organizational goals.

In reality, employees can fall out of alignment faster than you’d expect — for a number of reasons. Here are a few examples:

  • Role change. You’ve recently asked your social media manager — who loves social media — to de-prioritize social media and spend more time on marketing operations, but she feels drained by looking at spreadsheets and no longer gets to exercise her creativity.
  • Exacerbated by lack of training. You just promoted a business analyst to manager because she excelled at financial analysis; but she is now struggling to do her work and motivate three employees because she hasn’t received training on being a manager.
  • Life change. Your Director of Operations loves her job and just became a new mom. Because she isn’t allowed to work from home, she’s now struggling to care as much about her job as she did before.
  • Project change. A big project just ended, the client was great to work with, the work itself was interesting, the process was smooth. With the new project, though, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Even if your hiring practices are optimized to ensure a good fit for each person, the alignment that existed at the beginning of someone’s tenure can disappear well before their first annual review, sometimes within nine or even three months on the job.

Research from BambooHR found that 77 percent of employees in non-management and non-HR roles don’t see consistent organizational changes based on feedback given during annual reviews. Delaying the review process and failing to communicate progress can lead employees to feel that their differences can’t be resolved. And when employees feel that their work no longer fits in the bigger narrative of their lives, they will begin to distance themselves emotionally from the organization.

Want to learn more about how and why employees become disengaged, or what you can do to reduce turnover? Download a copy of our ebook here.

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