How to kill employee engagement in 7 easy steps

Is your team bored? Unsatisfied? Generally disengaged? Read how your actions could kill employee engagement and decide to be a motivational manager instead.

Hammer smashing a light bulb for: kill employee engagement

No manager in the entire business world would profess to want less employee engagement, especially when we know that:

  • Customer engagement increases when employees are engaged
  • Errors decrease as employee engagement increases
  • Engaged employees take less sick days and are less likely to leave their job

Despite this, managers are facing startling statistics about the poor overall engagement of the workforce. In order to keep your team from becoming another negative statistic, you need to understand how you could be the one that’s killing employee engagement.

These seven steps show you just how easy it is for managers to kill employee engagement.

1. Take an overly helpful approach

There are times when you should monitor your employees closely, such as when they’re new to the job or when there’s a specific performance issue to address. Long-term micromanagement, however, stems from a lack of trust in your employees and will kill employee engagement.

The first step to restoring that trust is to identify why you feel the need to step in.

  • Have they repeatedly missed deadlines?
  • Has their work missed the mark in the past?

If the answer is no, you need to consider whether it’s simply a belief that your way is best. Once you identify what is making you get so involved, you can take steps back off by:

  • Creating accountability through goals and deadlines
  • Exchanging micromanagement for feedback at designated milestones

2. Fail to issue challenges

‘My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work…and I am in my own proper atmosphere.’ These are the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and they ring true in the workplace. A vital element of job satisfaction is ‘the opportunity to use skills and abilities.’

As manager, you must learn to anticipate an employee’s need for a new challenge. Signs you are not using an their full skill set include:

  • Looking to take on other team member’s challenges
  • Looking for ventures outside the department or in their spare time
  • Solving the problems they encounter day-to-day with ease

Don’t fail to anticipate when an employee has mastered their current responsibilities. Without overloading them, make sure you issue challenges that allow an employee to use their skills and abilities in a different way. Otherwise, you risk bored, disengaged employees.

3. Mismanage the allocation of responsibilities

How you handle the assignment of projects and tasks can determine how engaged team members are with their role. There are two mistakes that are easy to make:

  • Pile work on a high performer. Don’t mistake challenges for an overwhelming workload. Piling tasks on the few who complete their work efficiently is hardly a reward for their effort. Likewise, giving them tasks too far outside their skills and abilities will only make them struggle.
    You risk low quality work and disengagement when hard work is rewarded with administrative work or projects an individual has no aptitude for.
  • Let the slackers slack. If you have an employee who meets the metrics, but does little more, it’s a mistake to ignore them entirely when it comes to extra projects and tasks.
    • First, high performers notice when they are pulling more weight. Eventually, this causes them to disengage and possibly resent their slacker teammates.
    • Second, employees who give the minimum are already disengaged or on the way there. Letting them skate with no sort of challenge or responsibility only feeds the problem.

It’s important to consider both capability and capacity when doling out responsibilities. High performers will be relieved to have support from you and the team, while average or low performers will be happy to gain a sense of responsibility.

4. Mismanage deadlines

Sand timers

Projects change and evolve, but it’s important to manage deadlines in such a way that you don’t kill employee engagement with the project all together.

  • Unclear deadlines. If you don’t set definitive deadlines, it will feel like failure to your employees when you suddenly ask for a finished product. It can leave them feeling helpless and like their best efforts have been sabotaged.
  • Ignored deadlines. On the other hand, ignoring a deadline tells employees it wasn’t important and neither was the hard work they put in to meet it. Instead, schedule time in your calendar to review their work and provide feedback. This way, they know it’s on your radar even when you are busy or have different priorities.
  • Unrealistic deadlines. Setting a deadline the team knows is impossible to meet causes them to rush and results in a poor final product. Unrealistic deadlines don’t permit your team to engage with the project because they are so worried about crossing the finish line, not running a good race.

The key is to set clear, realistic deadlines and maintain communication with the team when the project changes or priorities shift.

5. Manage by metrics and metrics alone

‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure’ is a common quip used in the ‘managing with big data’ discussion. However, relying too heavily on performance metrics leaves little room for the exercise of good judgment.

For example, let’s say you measure the number of calls each member of a customer service team takes. One team member might excel at resolving customer complaints and queries, but the time spent handling these issues means they take fewer calls each day.

In a situation like this, pressing the employee to up their availability or close service tickets more efficiently will tell them the effort they put into customer service isn’t worthwhile. As a result, the engagement with their role, which made them great at customer service in the first place, will disappear.

6. Refuse to offer feedback

A TLNT article cites that an employee feeling insecure about their role in a company is more likely to:

  • Actively look for work with another company
  • Think and say negative things about the organisation
  • Put less effort into their work if they perceive it to have no bearing on their future

Employees who feel ignored by their managers are two times more likely to become actively disengaged. Meanwhile, companies that give regular feedback to employees enjoy approximately 15 percent lower turnover rates.

Without feedback, employees don’t know where to improve and what to continue doing. They can become insecure about or lose interest in their jobs, leading them to engage their efforts elsewhere. To avoid this, you have to build feedback into the way you manage.

  • Set clear performance expectations to serve as points of discussion in your feedback
  • Schedule regular, structured reviews to open dialogue with individuals about performance
  • Debrief projects so the team understands the specific successes and failures

This isn’t advocating for participation trophies or praise where it’s not due. Employees simply need a clear idea of where they stand in order to relax and engage with their jobs.

7. Don’t compensate employees for the job they do

‘The best use of money is to take the issue of money off the table,’ according to Dan Pink. Even if an individual isn’t personally motivated by raises or bonuses, their salary can affect how they view you and the company. Their salary must consider:

  • The role they fill and the workload they take on
  • How well they handle their responsibilities
  • Basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing and savings for the future

An employee’s salary has to be competitive and send the message that you care about their well-being and recognise their performance. This prevents employees from looking elsewhere for someone who does.

It’s simple to avoid being the one to kill employee engagement: just understand the role you play in building the strength of each employee’s commitment to their role, their tasks, the team and the company.

(Hat tip to Sylvain Moreau and William Warby for the photos)

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