recruitment & retention
Disengaged employees
How to get them back on board
Browned off employees are
everywhere and this rubs off on
customers and ultimately the success
of the organisation: a recent Gallup
survey indicated that as many as a third
of employees are actively ‘disengaged’
from their organisation. For all the talk
about the importance of engagement,
there is not enough emphasis for
managers on the practicalities. Steve
Macaulay and Sarah Cook have some
advice to help you anticipate warning
signs and to build solid, actionable
foundations for greater engagement.
And to checklist to see how well you
are doing visit our website
November/December 2006
hat is employee engagement?
In our eyes, engagement is
another way of describing
‘going the extra mile’. It is founded on a twoway relationship between employees feeling
valued and giving their best and employer
efforts to promote this. A recent report by
the Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development defines it as ‘a combination of
commitment and organisational citizenship’.
As a customer you will quickly spot
disengagement - a glazed-over eye when
you ask a question or want to make a
complaint and only doing the minimum.
However, if disengagement is easy to spot,
the opposite is not easy to consistently
encourage and maintain. Those who manage
employees day-in, day-out regularly report
how hard it is to retain positive momentum,
often in the face of a barrage of workload,
when tiredness can set in and when you’ve
dealt with the same issue for the nth time
that day. So what can the manager do to
invigorate and sustain engagement? The
first thing is to recognise the symptoms and
causes that can turn an employee off. These
can creep up on you, and together add up
to a disengaged organisation.
An individual example of the damaging
effects of disengagement can be illustrated
by Chris, a talented service representative in
a training service company we know well. At
first, she had a cheerful manner, a strong
rapport with clients and was bright and
knowledgeable. Yet after three years she was
complaining that her managers didn’t respect
her and she wasn’t treated fairly. She became
reluctant to take on extra work and began
to contribute to a sour climate in her group,
which leaked out to customers and colleagues.
She eventually left to go to a competitor.
Where, her manager asked us, had he gone
wrong? The company had lost someone with
potential that was going to be hard to replace.
A Bad Practice Guide
Here are some actions that can actively lead
to dis-engagement!
• Rubbish the product or service you
produce and what your organisation
stands for.
• Fail to take responsibility as an
organisation for the impact you have on
the local community, lack of corporate
social responsibility.
• Fail to make it clear what people should
do, or keep everyone up-to-date.
Assume they will ‘sort themselves out’.
• Pay the minimum you can get away
with for the job; ignore an employee’s
life outside work.
• Discount the importance of training and
• Introduce new technology and fail to
develop people to meet the demands
of their role.
and undermine people.
• Turn a deaf ear to any suggestions.
• Discourage people wasting time talking
to each other, and frown on meetings
outside work.
You might see such beliefs and ways of
working as ludicrously exaggerated. In fact,
employees will often experience behaviour
which in practice bears a close relationship
to many of these. Typically, managers are
caught in a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of excessive
pressure - attempting to fulfil the business
strategy, satisfy employee needs and deliver
to the customer. They have to reconcile all
three and sometimes it feels as if they fall
between all three.
Signs and Symptoms of It
All Going Wrong - Some
Practical Remedies
Managing for engagement can be exacting.
Here are some of the problems facing a
manager with engagement problems, with
some very down-to-earth suggested actions
to tackle retention and engagement issues.
Employees disconnected from
the wider organisation
Employees can easily feel disconnected from
the corporate world and of their organisation’s
‘vision’, ‘strategy’ and ‘values’. Rather than
simply despair, a manager should take time
during briefing sessions to focus on local issues,
use practical examples to show how what team
members do relates to the bigger picture; invite
senior managers to visit your unit and to speak
to individuals so their views are acknowledged;
recognise personal and team achievement,
the best organisations pay a lot
of attention to recruitment and
selection. these organisations
frequently use methods in
addition to interviews to provide
more comprehensive data on a
candidate. for example, asking a
candidate to undertake a
psychometric diagnostic and
carefully setting up a realistic
role-play of work situations
spend time listening to team members and act
on their suggestions and ideas.
Stress and burn-out
Stress can be all too prevalent in busy
service environments and can have
damaging consequences, ranging from low
morale, mistakes to high absence levels. In
the short-term a number of remedies are
useful, such as helping people to recognise
the signs of stress in themselves and their
colleagues and pulling back before the
effects become harmful. Other methods
are learning to relax. We have come across
workplace stress busters such as having
a shoulder massage, taking time out as a
team to do aerobic exercises or a stand-up
where the team does a ‘Mexican wave’ or
deliberately encouraging a laugh to relieve
tension. Longer-term you need to assess
what is causing the stress and aim to prevent
it or at least minimise it, by for example:
• Planning workload and work patterns
• Increase role flexibility to manage
• Investigate systems and processes to
make them more efficient.
• Increase knowledge and skills.
• Listening to employees more.
Measurement as a stick to beat people
Some organisations fail to see the
demotivational effects of constantly
November/December 2006
recruitment & retention
stressing the negative- missed targets, failed
standards, sub-optimal performance. This
means they fail to address important issues
around difficult-to-measure areas such as
employee morale. Crucial questions to ask all
managers about measures are:
• Is this measure making a difference to
the whole business?
• measurement focussing on what
is going well or what is going wrong,
forcing people to cover up or become
• Are team and individual successes
appropriately recognised?
The more successful organisations are now
intelligently using a Balanced Scorecard to
keep a sense of perspective over a broad
spread of key measures without getting
bogged down in excessive or irrelevant detail.
They are actively involving employees in
what should be measured and how. Balance
stresses achievement, not just failure. At
Standard Life, best practice as a result of
engagement surveys in high performing
teams suggested that involvement in setting
and monitoring individual targets was key.
‘Must haves’ and ‘Desirables’ are agreed and
monitoring is tailored to suit the needs of
individuals and business needs.
Employees quickly move on
Disenchantment with the organisation may
be signalled by high turnover. Investment
in development is a must in helping to
demonstrate commitment on behalf of the
organisation. If you are a manager faced
with this issue, you should thoroughly
explore the reasons behind the high level of
turnover, which is common in routine roles
November/December 2006
but not universal. Learn from the best: you
can do a lot to increase job satisfaction and
make the most of the contribution your
employees can make. Interview existing
people and those who leave; don’t get
defensive when you hear criticisms and be
prepared to act on the results.
The best organisations pay a lot of
attention to recruitment and selection.
These organisations frequently use methods
in addition to interviews to provide more
comprehensive data on a candidate. For
example, asking the candidate to undertake
a psychometric diagnostic and carefully
setting up a realistic role-play of sample
work situations.
After a new recruit has finished their
induction, there needs to be methods in
place for on the job coaching and further
development that takes place on the job.
Consider developing people to act as team
coaches and thereby using other’s innate
talents to best effect.
Managers are encouraged to be tough
at the expense of employees
Macho management does not sit
comfortably with today’s workforce. Many
organisations have officially shunned
hierarchical, one-way styles of working
and with it an authoritarian approach to
management. In practice, many businesses
put substantial pressure on managers to get
results quickly and effectively encourage a
’do as you’re told’ and ‘one way’ mentality.
However hard it is to go against the
prevailing organisational style, it is unlikely
that such methods will promote engagement.
Aim to develop an employee-friendly style.
To get your team behind this approach, try
encouraging more involvement from team
members and allow their knowledge to come
through. In time this will free you up and
allow you to grow your team.
Managers are distant
It is easy for a manager to start to feel
employees are trouble, intrusive on their time
and as a result begin to get out of touch with
employee needs. In turn, this leads employees
to see their managers as remote and
unconcerned with their issues. As a discipline,
regularly speak to people first hand – not just
through emails. As a result of a high volume
of work managers can begin to assume they
understand people and what keeps them
loyal. However, this isolation risks missing
changes or early signs of dissatisfaction - you
make too many unchecked presumptions
without regular contact.
To promote continuous improvement,
everyone - including yourself - should view
problems and difficulties as opportunities to
learn. Unfortunately, no one relishes handling
potentially uncomfortable or time-consuming
situations and this may lead to avoidance
and failure to keep in touch. Creating a
supportive, not a blame culture will lead
to greater openness to identify potential
problems and to handling issues as routine.
Sound advice is to follow these steps:
• Be approachable and hear people out.
• Acknowledge their right to express
their view.
• promptly with a complaint or
Importantly, learn from issues that arise,
don’t just register them and forget them,
which is a widespread management error
which lets issues build up – after all, if you
know something isn’t going to be addressed,
who is going to bother raising it?
Weak Foundations
Weak foundations provide a shaky platform
for any engagement initiative. According
to a report by the Institute of Employment
Studies, the following long-term building
blocks need to be in place:
• Good quality line management.
• Two-way communication.
• Effective internal co-operation.
• A development focus.
• Commitment to employee wellbeing.
• Clear, accessible HR policies and
practices, to which managers at all
levels are committed.
A lot of good work can be undone by
managers responding to pressures in an
inconsistent way. A retail group built a
deserved reputation for encouraging a
positive, involving style. However, when the
business hit hard times it cut the annual
shop bonuses and stopped Christmas
employee discounts. There was a substantial
drop in morale and trust, with the common
feeling amongst affected employees that
they were no longer valued. A growing
software company had made an informal
commitment in a favourable business climate
not to make its employees redundant.
However, in the face of financial difficulties
it did just this. Many remaining employees
felt let down and questioned their future
loyalty to the business.
for examples of organisations who are
getting it right and for a check list on
how well you are doing visit our website
Steve Macaulay is a Learning Development
Executive at Cranfield School of Management.
Contact him on: tel: 01234 751122
Sarah Cook is Managing Director of leadership
and service excellence specialists, The Stairway
Consultancy. Contact her on:
Tel 01628 526535 sarah@thestairway.co.uk
Patricia Wheatley Burt looks at the ever more
complex legislation around recruitment and
points a way through the minefield
Property market has been frenetic.
Properties are moving so quickly that
emailed details are often sketchy, (full
details rarely get printed), a phone call alerts
prospective buyers to view and view now,
and really, if you don’t make an offer within
the first 48 hours of a property being on the
market, then you’ve lost it!
There are Contract races to Exchange
with probably no time to have a survey,
or establish building consents, and just to
compound things, almost every property,
certainly in the London area, has gone for
considerably more than the asking price. You
do all this – and then you get Gazumped.
Sound similar to those of you Recruiting
at the moment? There are endless phone
calls to the HR and Management team,
relaying a sketchy work history or CV
on candidates, and pressure to instantly
telephone interview them.
You are harried to organise first and
second interviews in a couple of days,
followed by an urgency to make a job
offer often without enough time to check
suitability, culture fit or even references:
‘Make me an offer I can’t refuse’ the
confident candidate will demand. This
can blow salary scales apart and maybe
breach policies and legislation too. ‘All that
glistens is not gold’: how sure are you that
in this haste, you are not being pushed to
employing someone who will not deliver?
As Anthony Robinson, Legal Director of
the Commission for Racial Equality, said,
referring to the new Employment Equality
(Age) Regulations (1st October ’06): “These
Regulations will for the first time make it
unlawful to discriminate on the grounds
of age. The demographic changes that are
rapidly occurring in the UK, with an ageing
population made this an urgent issue that
needed to be addressed”.
So what can you do to ensure you have
rigorous, yet swift methods to advertise,
select and assess candidates, and still remain
within the growing levels of employment
1. Draw up an action to plan to review all HR
policies to ensure that they do not discriminate,
including now on the grounds of age.
2. Ensure that all employees are aware of
and understand the revised HR procedures
as well as the revised equal opportunity/
diversity/equality policy.
3. Provide training on Recruitment &
Selection on age discrimination to your
people managers and recruiters.
4. Expand the objective processes used in
Recruitment & Selection to include rigorous
assessments to underpin the interviewing
process, e.g. Personality, IQ, Competencies
and Emotional Intelligence.
Being open minded offers scope to
take advantage of your local, employable
population - as the Portman Building
Society in Bournemouth, found out when
targeting older workers to fill administrative
roles. They found themselves tapping into
Retiree-returners, a group of people who
have a more mature attitude to work and a
better understanding of Customer Service
requirements as well as better social skills
and a sense of humour.
In the housing market, home-owners need
to be opportunistic. So too Employers need
to be opportunistic to find good quality,
imaginative and creative staff. We all have a
wider pool to select from: just ensure that in
your haste, decisions remain objective and
Or do you want to risk it, and not know
until the ‘paint peels off and the cracks
Patricia Wheatley Burt (FCIPD) is a business
and HR consultant and expert in pragmatic
business management.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7565 7547
November/December 2006