3 Things Managers Do That Disengage Employees

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Engagement is often viewed as just an "HR thing" when in fact, managers play an even more important role in engaging employees day-to-day. Managers, however, may not realize how their actions engage or disengage employees and how that affects their team's performance and productivity. Here are 3 things managers do which can unintentionally disengage employees.

1. Devalue

Unfortunately, feeling undervalued is a common problem in the workplace and it affects engagement considerably. Instead of focusing on performance and creating value, employees who feel devalued spend their energy trying to defend or prove their value and typically underperform in the process. There are a number of common reasons and situations that could cause an employee to feel devalued, such as:

  • not being recognized or acknowledged for a job well done, or ignored
  • being passed over for a promotion or transferred/assigned to a new area
  • feeling under-challenged or that they are working below their capabilities
  • receiving a lower than expected pay increase, performance rating, etc.
  • being unfairly treated or denied a request for leave, additional flexibility, etc.
  • not being listened/responded to or asked for their input

Managers usually don't intend to make employees feel devalued, but the absence of acknowledgement and the effects of how they treat other employees or the decisions they make can inevitably backfire and leave employees feeling undervalued and disengaged.

2. Distrust

Trust is also vital to employee engagement. Loss of employee trust in leaders or their managers can create havoc on engagement. Disengaged employees who lose trust in their managers spend more time wondering what truths their managers are trying to hold back from them or questioning their manager's honesty, than creating and driving results.

Managers can lose employees' trust in ways that they may not realize. Saying one thing and doing another is a major reason that trust can be broken. If you promise something to an employee (even if it was years prior), they expect you to follow-through. Keeping your word and being consistent is the best way to keep employees' trust.

Micromanaging or over-controlling how tasks are completed and limiting employees' autonomy can also create distrust. If employees feel like you don't trust or believe in their capabilities, they may reciprocate and not trust you. Trust is a two way street, and you must be willing to give trust to gain it.

Other ways managers create distrust inadvertently are by publically criticizing employees or drawing attention to their weaknesses, keeping secrets and withholding information, making changes without honestly communicating why, telling half-truths, not practicing what they preach, and sugarcoating problems or situations. Every manager makes one of these mistakes at one time or another and the negative effects can be difficult to reverse.

3. Disconnect

Employees become disengaged when they don't have a good connection with their manager, or when a positive dynamic with their boss changes. For many employees, their boss is one of the most important people in their work-life. As a result, positive, supportive relationships between employees and their managers play a critical role in engaging employees.

When employees and managers stop communicating with one another regularly or when a positive manager-employee relationship turns sour, a disconnect can occur. Being able to resolve and manage conflicts with employees is a skill managers need to maintain their relationships and connections with employees.

Sometimes disconnects happen without managers realizing it. For example, managers can commonly grow apart from employees with significant tenure or those that don't need as much development. Also, managers can often find themselves operating in a vacuum, busily engaged in tasks and projects, but failing to make time for their people. They may become invisible to their staff or a particular employee. They may also not spend enough time trying to develop rapport with employees.

Connecting, developing trust, and valuing employees are three key ways managers can drive engagement. In the ongoing quest for an engaged, productive, and high-performing workforce, managers must realize how their everyday actions or lack of action can disengage employees and give them the skills and insights to create an engaged team.

Additional Resources

Management & Leadership Development

ERC offers a range of courses to develop supervisors, middle managers, and leaders including popular topics such as communication, conflict resolution, time and priority management, emotional intelligence, and performance management. 

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