Employee engagement

What Not to Do: 8 Ways to Hurt Employee Engagement

George Dickson
June 5, 2015
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You've heard the news: lots of U.S. workers are disengaged. While engagement numbers have risen recently, the ratio of engaged to disengaged employees is still not great: 2.4-to-1. Employee turnover is costing companies a lot of dollars. It could be costing you up to, if not more than $2.6 million dollars per year.😱

In contrast, companies with an engaged workforce outperform others by up to 202%.

Inspiring employee engagement is worthwhile, and there are a lot of easy ways to go about it. Unfortunately, there are just as many ways to hinder employee engagement, and sometimes it's not obvious which are which.

Here's a quick list of what not to do.

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8 ways to hurt employee engagement

1. Operate on a need-to-know basis

While operating on a need-to-know basis may be an effective plot device in a spy movie, it's a less-than-ideal approach in the real business world.

This doesn't mean that your employees need to know every single detail of every single project you are working on, but defaulting to transparency is often the most effective approach.

Transparency builds trust and loyalty, and it also removes barriers to useful information. By being upfront with your team, you can squash rumors before they have a chance to spread fear and speculation.

While you may not be comfortable going as far as companies like Buffer, transparency is still a valuable way of increasing employee engagement. In fact, a Glassdoor survey revealed that 96% of job seekers found it important to work for a company that embraces transparency.

2. Fear professional development

Have you ever worried about employees bettering themselves only to take their new skills elsewhere?

Professional development shouldn't be feared or ignored—it should be celebrated! Don't you want a stronger team?

Showing your support is essential in keeping your employees happy as they advance their skills. If you're genuinely supportive, they might not take those skills elsewhere.

Your employees want to improve and grow. Encourage and support their efforts. 🌱

3. Reserve recognition for the biggest achievements

Recognizing only big wins is a disservice to your team. While the biggest superstars and their achievements are certainly worthy of your attention, the rest of your employees are quietly succeeding one small achievement at a time.

Recognition is easy, cheap, and effective. It's as easy as paying attention to your employees' challenges and noticing their successes. A simple "thank you" shows that not only did you notice an employee's contribution, you genuinely appreciate it. This can go a long way in increasing employee satisfaction and loyalty at work.

4. Squash enthusiasm to eliminate distractions

Whether someone's just landed a big contract or the company has recently announced an exciting new venture, you worry that employee enthusiasm will quickly turn into a distraction.

Quite the contrary, actually!

Enthusiastic employees are engaged employees. They're excited about their work and eager to get started. Let them celebrate and let them share their excitement with others. Enthusiasm is contagious, and you want it to spread!

In fact, enthusiasm is one of four valuable traits that engaged employees exhibit. The other three are inspiration, empowerment, and confidence.

5. Stow your core values on the website

It's already plastered on your website and marketing materials for the world to see, but your employees don't need to concern themselves with high-level concepts such as vision, purpose, or strategy....right?

Not so fast. Sharing your company's vision and purpose is essential to engaging your employees.

They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to perform meaningful work and they want to help the company fulfill its mission.

But they can't do any of these things if they are not clear about the company's core values. Recent Gallup data found that new data from Gallup found that only 27% of employees strongly believe in their company's values, making this a prime area for improvement.

6. Prioritize individualism and competition

Many of us work best in a quiet environment, one where we can shut the door and eliminate all distractions. (Unless you're a caretaker working from home, in which case we see you 💚.) You might also like working on projects on your own and being recognized for successfully completing them.

However, the vast majority of employees want a collaborative, rather than competitive, culture. Instead of fostering individualism and competition, encourage collaboration.

7. Keep a rigid schedule

Your company has regular business hours, so it might seem like it makes sense to enforce a rigid schedule. It can also be a mistake. Yes, someone needs to be present to greet customers or answer phones, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to follow a strict schedule.

Employees want flexible work schedules, and they want to have some say in how they perform their jobs. Denying them that is a guaranteed way of destroying employee engagement.

8. Focus on years of service

Imagine an employee who's put in 25 years with your company. That's a significant milestone, especially in today's job-hopping business climate.

It's worth recognizing, but if your main focus of employee recognition is on how long somebody can stick around, you're doing a major disservice to the rest of your team.

Years of service awards are not based on merit or skill. They are not timely, they are infrequent, they are obligatory, and they are uninspired. Bottom line? Give genuine recognition inspired by actions instead of a calendar date.

The takeaway

Are you inadvertently hurting employee engagement with any of these mistakes? Don't worry! Most of them are easy to correct, and seeing leadership visibly working to improve the work environment is a powerful motivator.

If it feels like a herculean task to take on, you're in luck. There are some excellent tools out there to help you build employee engagement instead of hurting it.

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