3 easy ways to ruin morale and obliterate employee engagement

These subtle yet irksome workplace annoyances can prompt workers to check out mentally and tap out physically.

How to obliterate employee engagement

The last time you resigned from a job, what was it that broke you?

Lousy pay, grating bosses, grinding commutes and draconian HR edicts drive more than their fair share of employees toward the exits. However, resignations are often more of a “death by a thousand [mandatory, team-based activity] cuts” phenomenon.

Communicators, beware these three subtle yet morale-draining workplace vexations that could be causing unforeseen resignations:

1. Forced or compulsory “collaborative” activities

Most major world religions offer some sort of scripture about the notion of “compulsory behavior.” The Quran says there is “no compulsion in religion.” The Bible states: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Meanwhile our divine corporate overlords, at some point, issued a holy writ that declareth: “Thou shalt force thine employees to dine together, collaborate with one another and be compelled to engage in nonsensical team-building activities forthwith. For it is the will of thy executive, who once read a John Maxwell book on leadership 15 years ago. Amen.”

Collaboration is tremendous when it’s natural, relevant, goal-specific and purposeful. When it’s mandatory and vague—or just enacted to force colleagues to get to know each other or complete some annoying “team-based activity”—it can be a major morale buster.

Collaboration purely for the sake of collaboration could be driving your best people away.

2. Smoke and mirrors

Who doesn’t love a cryptic, ambiguous employer?

Executives, understandably, often approach internal communication as a need-to-know—or slightly-less-than-need-to-know—endeavor. The less they can convey to employees, the better.

They don’t need to know everything, right? They’ll revolt if they knew the truth!

Workers get antsy if they have no idea what’s happening or which way the company ship is sailing. Many employers seem to prefer it that way. It’s a sort of leverage, as if employees are hostile adversaries who must be kept in the dark.

To keep staffers at bay, some favor using half-truths or employing a writing style that’s jargon-choked and boring enough to lull employees into a sense of security. Others opt for low-key deception.

  • “We do not foresee more layoffs.”
  • “We value each employee.”
  • “These changes will result in more synergy and help us be more innovative moving forward.”
  • “Accountability is one of our core values.”
  • “We take these concerns seriously.”

If your workplace engages in a smoke-and-mirrors approach to communication, with a goal of placating, pacifying or misleading your employees, feel free to join the stampede toward the nearest exit.

3. Minimal or substandard recognition

Humans have an uncanny ability to burn with rage over lack of appreciation.

Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr., winner of six Super Bowls and eternal tormentor of Miami Dolphins fans everywhere, still pettily chafes about being slighted, overlooked and underappreciated. Michael Jordan, another six-time champ, was famously fueled by not making the varsity squad his sophomore year of high school.

Dare I say, there are employees in your midst who are stewing that “no one appreciates me around here.” Dare I also say that they will not be working for your firm for long.

Showing real, meaningful and substantive recognition is easy to do. Unfortunately, companies rarely prioritize it, put anyone in charge of it or standardize the process. As a result, employees go largely without so much as a shout-out or pat on the back.

Encourage your leaders to pony up for gift cards, bonus PTO days, trophies, plaques or whatever you think might motivate your colleagues. Recognition is more than a mere “perk.” It is—or should be—an essential component of any employee engagement or retention strategy worth its weight.


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