5 Ways to Disengage your Workforce

Can certain work environments lead to disengagement amongst your workforce? What can be done to re-engage members of a group towards achieving a common mission?


travail d'équipeAs stated by John W. Gardner, the practice of leadership is a two-faceted process involving influence and accountability. Gardner, John F. Kennedy’s consultant, also believed that within any group, organization, or society, leadership roles and responsibilities are unofficially shared by many individuals. Furthermore, the sense of responsibility created by sharing leadership roles leads to a strong collective engagement within the organization. This collective mobilization is sometimes more efficient than the leadership at the top of the organization.


In the case of shared leadership, the real objective is to elevate the feeling of engagement and accountability to include every member of the team or organization in the achievement of the common mission. In other words, shared leadership calls for the mobilization of the greatest number of individuals so that the responsibility towards achieving the common goal is shared by everyone within the organization.


Let us reflect differently about the subject by looking at 5 attitudes that lead to disengagement in the workplace, these are:


  • Distrust
  • Disregard
  • Derision
  • Manipulation
  • Self-contempt





Disengagement often originates from an environment where workers do not trust their peers. Distrust can be manifested in different ways: a lack of trust in the ability of workers to perform, in their motivation or their expertise might lead to disengagement.


Distrust can also manifest itself when responsibilities are divided amongst workers instead of being shared by the entire group. Limiting discussions about challenges, issues or results; ignoring or not including the suggestions, ideas, feedback and initiatives of others and increasing control mechanisms or bureaucratic formalities are other ways to create distrust amongst individuals of an entity. The following suggestions can serve as ways to increase the level of trust within a group and reinforce employee engagement:


  • encouraging autonomy, initiatives and the expression of ideas; implementing them whenever it is possible;
  • during formal and informal meetings, communicating information about common problems and challenges;
  • acknowledging the interests and motivations of others rather than taking them for granted;
  • allowing workers to make a few mistakes so that they learn to trust others and feel more confident to take initiatives.



This attitude tends to manifest itself when hierarchies of preferences are established to distinguish between individuals, professions (i.e. doctors, nurses, janitors) or departments (i.e. engineering department vs. sales department, human resources department). The individuals, or groups disadvantaged by these preferences tend to dissociate themselves from the common goal.


Discussions concerning these hierarchies do not have to be derogative or negative. Highlighting the accomplishments of a certain group or person while constantly omitting others can have a harmful effect on the organization and subsequently lead to disengagement. This problem can be solved by:


  • establishing values of mutual respect between all members of the organization; explaining expectations to everyone;
  • equally acknowledging the accomplishments of all groups and individuals;
  • creating training and development incentives open to the greatest number of people (instead of restricting them to a few individuals or groups). By taking such an initiative, Danone developed a leadership training program available to its 15,000 employees and its suppliers.



can affect one individual or an entire group. It creates the perfect environment for rumor mongering and the defamation of others. propager des rumeurs, rumor mongering The worker who hears about these harmful confessions might be initially flattered of being chosen as a confident and not as the “butt of the joke”. However, this person will slowly become distrustful of those creating and spreading these rumors.


Gradually, all members of the group might end up scared that the same thing could happen to them. This fear might even bring some workers to not take any initiatives by fear of being judged if they made a mistake. Some solutions to eliminate rumor mongering and distrust amongst workers include:


  • not partaking in such social practices and especially, making sure to quickly change the subject when discussions revolve around this;
  • quickly and openly valuing the individual or group harmed by these comments.



reality involves misleading others, telling white lies or inventing situations to benefit one’s individual interests. The manipulator’s dishonest strategies will sooner or later be revealed. Although most individuals tend to trust before doubting, the manipulator’s credibility will slowly be lost at the expense of the entire group.


You might be able to deceive some people sometimes, but deceiving everybody all the time is impossible. This also explains why political and business leaders greatly benefit from speaking frankly and honestly to their audiences. Jack Layton (Canadian political leader, passed away in 2011) was praised for his honest and authentic dialogs throughout his career. Some ways to avoid manipulations within a group include:


  • speaking in the most authentic and honest way possible;
  • if the entire truth cannot be communicated, it might be better to not say anything or explain that, due to a lack of important facts, the truth cannot yet be communicated openly.



manifested towards one’s own interests or one’s role within the organization can lead to disengagement Manque de confiance en soi, self-contemptbecause the individual’s lack of self-mobilization influences their contribution to the common mission. The solution in this case is to link one’s actions with what they wish they were doing. As stated by Jerchagnon: “Know yourself and do what you love”. I would add : love what you do. Some ways to avoid being self-contemptuous and learn to know and love yourself include:


  • getting to know yourself better, your strengths, interests and abilities;
  • understanding exactly what the mission is and what you could do to contribute to its achievement.





Accountability is a collective resource that should be shared equally amongst every collaborator. By sharing the responsibility of results, challenges, solutions and decisions, the goal becomes truly shared.


To achieve this level of collective engagement, the group (or organization) should try to avoid situations leading to disengagement such as : not trusting one another, distinguishing between workers or groups according to hierarchies of preferences, rumor mongering, manipulating the truth or lacking of confidence in one’s own abilities and contributions.


These environments gradually create disengagement amongst workers, subsequently limiting the group’s leadership to the few individuals in formal positions of power.


Edith Luc, Ph.D.


© 2012, Edith Luc. All Rights Reserved.

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