Are YOU The Cause Of Employee Disengagement?

Recently I was interviewed by Mr. Ric Franzi on his radio show CRITICAL MASS. He asked an interesting question, “What mistakes do leaders make that cause people to disengage?” Usually I prefer to ask what leaders should do rather than what they shouldn’t do. However, the kind of question you ask determines the kind of answer you get. Asking a different question can bring new insights to light.

In our efforts to pursue greater levels of engagement, perhaps our underlying assumption is that disengagement is an employee’s default state and therefore leaders must strive to create and increase engagement. But what if we assumed that engagement is an employee’s default state and that we degrade engagement through poor leadership practices?

Think about creativity for a moment. I Googled “increasing creativity” and got more than 49,000,000 results about how to boost creativity. Experiments have demonstrated that children are significantly more creative than adults. Never mind the experimental data. Just spend some time with a child. You’ll get the point. Lack of creativity is not our default state. We’re born creative and we’re socialized not to be that way. We suppress it and then we strive to re-awaken it later on.

So if we assume that the default state is engagement we can ask, “What are we doing (and not doing) to diminish engagement?” Here’s a partial list. I’m sure readers can add to it.


  • Casting people in jobs that don’t align with their strengths
  • Asking for behaviors employees don’t have in their repertoires
  • Criticizing employees in public
  • Focusing relentlessly on weaknesses and errors
  • Micromanaging
  • Playing favorites (for reasons NOT based on performance)
  • Accepting mediocre performance
  • Misusing our power

Not Doing

  • Not walking our talk
  • Not cultivating close relationships with direct reports
  • Not listening to employees’ ideas
  • Not celebrating successes
  • Not rewarding superior performance
  • Not dealing with problem employees
  • Not having an open door policy
  • Not encouraging people to have fun at work
  • Not demonstrating that we care deeply about each person in our organization
  • Not treating people with respect and dignity

Our most important sphere of influence is our own attitudes and behaviors. Engagement surveys and the subsequent action plans to change organization culture will not materially improve engagement unless each of us commits to change his or her behaviors that are causing employees to disengage. What are you going to change?

Thanks to Ric Franzi for suggesting this perspective on employee engagement.

And thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your comments.

Larry Sternberg

2 thoughts on “Are YOU The Cause Of Employee Disengagement?

  1. Spot on, Larry.

    Add – Not onboarding or inducting the employee appropriately to corporate culture.

    It’s an irony. Every new employee will come on-board with fresh enthusiasm & energy to kick start a new career. But, since people are new, it will take some time to adjust and fit in. Hence, as time passes, reality will reveal if the workplace culture is driven by fear or care. And, depending on how strong the fight or flight modality is, the employee will alter the default perception towards EE or ED.

    Leadership shapes culture, which, in turn, reinforces the underlying collective belief & practices – culture. It’s a vicious cycle that can spiral both upwards or downwards. Everyone is in it together – leaders as well as followers. But, since the fish always rot’s from the head, change for improvement must be initiated from the top.


  2. Pingback: Larry Sternberg’s 2014 Top Ten | Leadership Laboratory

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