The problem of employee disengagement starts at the top of the company

As I reported in last week’s column, a stunning number of U.S. employees feel less happy in their jobs than did employees in years past. More than 60% of U.S. employees admit being disengaged at work, 34% “often dread” going to work, and 19% describe themselves as “miserable” at work.

Employers that can’t turn this around spend more on payroll dollars than they receive in effort, and they experience low productivity, attitude problems, grievances and resignations.

In recent years, many employers have tried to fix employee discontent by throwing money at the problem. Often, this results in well-paid employees who like their wages but not their jobs and remain disengaged. Conversely, businesses with engaged employees enjoy greater customer loyalty, fewer resignations, lower absenteeism rates and a 23% higher profit margin than those with disengaged employees.

If you would like to turn this around and create engagement in your workplace, here’s what works:

Employee-centered management

The solution lies in building an “engaged” relationship between managers and employees. In an engaged relationship, managers learn their employees’ job and career goals, outline what they expect from their employees, and explain the upside potential of meeting those expectations. Employees feel seen, valued and appreciated. When managers commit to making this happen, employees know what their role is and feel respected and supported in their job and career development.

While this takes time and effort, it pays dividends in productivity and morale. This effort needs to extend beyond the employee’s immediate manager and include the organization’s leaders. Senior leaders need to step out of their management bubble and discover what they don’t hear or see when they live in the good-news cocoon that dilutes bad news before it arrives in the CEO’s office.


Senior leaders need to understand what it feels like on their organization’s front lines. By interacting with employees at all levels, leaders uncover problems that, while not on the leaders’ radar, need to be before they fester and cost productivity or employees. Even more important, senior leaders need to lead by interacting with all employees in a way that reminds them why they want to work for this company.

Regular all-hands meetings

Along similar lines, regular “state of the organization” all-hands briefings conducted by senior leaders show respect for employees by keeping them in the know, update employees on progress toward the organization’s vision and goals, and connect employees throughout the organization with one another. Done well, these meetings go beyond one-way communication and allow employees to ask questions and make comments concerning their organization’s strategies.

Integrity and trust

The problem of disengagement starts at the top.

The CEO whose call to me triggered last week’s column complained his company’s employees weren’t happy even though he paid them “obscenely large” salaries. Most employees believe it’s the CEOs and senior executives who receive obscenely large salaries; this turns off employees, and they retaliate by withholding effort.

Many organizations proudly post “core values” showcasing words such as integrity, trust and respect. Regrettably, many employees view these posted core values as worth less than the paper they’re printed on.

Employers that seek engaged employees need to look to themselves first: Are they leaders and managers employees can trust? Here’s a sample of an assessment survey I included in my book “Managing for Accountability” that allows an organization’s leaders to learn how employees rate them in terms of trustworthiness.

This leader/manager (rate on a scale of 0 to 7):

  • Is a straight shooter who communicates honestly and openly.
  • Follows through on what s/he commits to.
  • Provides leadership we can trust.
  • Walks his/her talk.
  • Is authentic; we know what to expect from him/her.
  • Keeps us in the know about what’s going on in the organization.
  • Is fair.

Are you ready for engagement in your organization? All it takes is time, effort and commitment. The payoff? Huge.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Beating the Workplace Bully" and “Solutions,” and Submit questions at or follow her on, or @lynnecurry10 on X/Twitter.