It is no surprise that engaged and happy employees are a great asset for businesses, but new research has found that engaged employees that become disengaged can turn into a company's worst nightmare. That's because disengaged employees exhibit many negative and harmful behaviors at work, the research finds.
In a survey of more than 1,000 white- and blue-collar workers, researcher Wayne Hochwarter found that engaged employees said they had better job satisfaction, performance and satisfaction in life. Additionally, engaged workers were more committed to their employer and less likely to leave their organization.
"Engaged employees work harder, are more creative and more committed, and they represent an important predictor of company productivity," Hochwarter, the Jim Moran professor of Business Administration at Florida State University's College of Business, said. "Unquestionably, organizations with engaged workers have weathered recessionary pressures more successfully."
While those benefits are all highly desired by companies, the drawbacks of engaged employees who become disengaged far outweigh those benefits. In the research, Hochwarter found that once engaged workers felt they weren’t being managed correctly, they reported a decline in helping behaviors at work, increased anger at supervisors and lower overall productivity. Disengaged employees also reported more stress at work.
"Engagement often means taking on more tasks than one’s less engaged co-workers, but with the expectation that the company will provide more of what is needed to assist along the way," Hochwarter said. "Organizations have to be sensitive to the fact that even model employees can 'give up' if they sense that they’re being asked to do more and more, and with fewer resources, while comparatively little is being asked of their less-engaged colleagues."
To avoid being burned by disengaged employees, companies can take several steps, Hochwarter said. They include:
- "First, understand that getting employees engaged isn’t like flipping a switch," Hochwarter said. "Often, it takes a while for engagement to kick in, but it can be lost in only one incident."
- "Second, realize that once-engaged employees who are now disengaged can cause more harm to a company than those who were never engaged," Hochwarter said.
- "Third, getting employees engaged is like planting a tree," Hochwarter said. "If you walk away from it, it’s unlikely to grow."
- "Finally, many leaders feel that managing engaged workers is easier than managing those who are not engaged," Hochwarter said. "This is simply not the reality in most companies."
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