Top Stories
Pin It

Disengaged employees may be making a deal with the devil

By Evert Akkerman


We often read about high levels of disengagement among employees and the resulting cost to the economy. HRDCanada magazine recently reported that despite seven out of 10 employees in North America feeling disengaged at work, just under 35 per cent of employees are planning to switch jobs. This means that only half of disengaged employees are willing to actually do something about it and make a change.

The other half, likely for a host of reasons, prefers to stay put and put up with managers or jobs they don’t like. These employees are along for the ride and collect their biweekly attendance fee.

The cost of disengagement to companies is certainly staggering. According to a study by the Queen’s School of Business and Gallup, disengaged workers logged 37 per cent higher absenteeism, 49 per cent more accidents and 60 per cent more errors and defects than engaged employees. According to Canada Human Resources Centre, unhappy workers cost the North American business economy over $350 billion per year in lost productivity. Another finding by Gallup is that 82 per cent of managers are miscast in their roles, which is likely one of the key factors for disengagement.

However, what about the cost to employees who are staying in jobs that don’t leverage their passions and key skills, working for one of those four-out-of-five managers who have no business being in management? Imagine the stress if you schlepp yourself to a job you don’t like, in a location you don’t like, working for a manager you don’t like, four or five days a week, year in and year out, all for the sake of a mortgage, car payments and hydro bills? Like a bad marriage, a sour employment relationship offers the comfort of familiarity, but if work is a daily grind instead of a creative and liberating process, that’s a lot of wear and tear. What does this do to one’s health? At the very least they would age rapidly, and no amount of Aveeno would reverse that process.

Recently, an employee who works for a multinational went on long-term disability for the second time. He had been with the company for several years and truly enjoyed it. Bob* was university-educated, creative, talented and driven, and added great value for years. However, things changed after the company went through a restructuring and it became a revolving door at the management level. Bob realized that the situation was deteriorating and that he no longer enjoyed his work, but he had 15 years of tenure and was loath to give that up – quitting would mean giving a month’s working notice, while being fired could result in a windfall to the tune of 15 months’ pay. So, he made – in effect – a deal with the devil: he would stick around, do the bare minimum and wait to be “packaged out,” then coast into retirement.

Nice plan, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Five years later, the constant stress caught up with Bob in the form of insomnia, anxiety attacks, depression and other issues. This triggered his first disability leave. When he returned to work six months later, the circumstances hadn’t changed. After hanging in for another year, Bob was diagnosed with the onset of diabetes and he is now on disability leave again; years older and in no shape to launch a job search.

This is a perfect example of how people take their good health for granted at a younger age and decide to roll the dice, so they continue to be “entitled to their entitlements,” as a former public servant so eloquently put it years ago.

Disengagement is much more than just lost productivity and HR can make a big difference in these situations. Of course, an organization would be exposed to risk if it was to suggest to certain employees that, perhaps, they should take advantage of counselling services offered under an EAP or that they should start looking elsewhere for employment. However, regular coaching sessions and performance reviews are ideal opportunities to ask whether employees are deriving fulfillment, enjoying the work, feeling supported and following their passion. If it turns out that they are not, there is nothing wrong with asking whether there are other jobs they would likely enjoy more and what HR can do to help them get there. Also, this will likely get priceless feedback on where the organization can improve.

We’re talking about real people with real lives who are, at different levels, wasting their time and risking their health. If people truly are an organization’s key resource and greatest strength, organizations need to recognize that employees’ chasing their pension instead of their passion can come at a steep price.


Evert Akkerman is an award-winning HR professional and founder of XNL HR.

*Name has been changed to respect privacy.




Pin It