Conflict and Employee Disengagement
There are conflicts everywhere, but the ones at work leave some of the deepest marks, because we spend, on average 40 to 60 hours a week with people we did not choose.
The common response to most work conflicts—from uninvolved employees to supervisors—sometimes ranges from “It’s not my problem,” to “I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me.”
There’s also a variation of the Bystander Effect—where everyone stands around waiting for someone else to take a stand against a situation rather than themselves doing anything–which occurs when conflict and disengagement arise among employees and teams.
When conflict occurs between co-workers, apathy, and fear of reprisal or negative consequences resulting from taking an action, paralyze fellow coworkers in the escalation cycle of conflict.
In contrast, when conflict occurs between supervisors and employees, grumbling, gossip, and other expressions of powerlessness become evident.
The escalation cycle continues but it slows down, sometimes allowing the conflict to fester for years and transform into other cultural workplace pathologies.
Employee Disengagement Has Remained Consistent
With the number of “disengaged” employees in the workplace at a consistent 26% for the last fifteen years, according to the yearly Dale Carnegie and Gallup Organization studies, it’s no wonder that people may occasionally show up to work ready to be angry and in conflict.
And, with other stressors upon workers, such as those related to work-from-home transitions, lockdowns, social distancing, and COVID testing requirements, the pressure on employees in all industries continues to mount.
Many times the following statements are said (or heard) about efforts to develop engagement, reduce stress, or even manage conflict by employees at work:
- “The people who really need this information to have better approaches, won’t be attending these sessions.”
- “The people who are causing all the problems and could use this workshop to improve aren’t going to come.”
- “The people who could support us up the chain in changing our approaches, can’t come to the workshops due to scheduling issues.”
Getting and maintaining “buy-in” from the employees, supervisors, management and others who aren’t showing up, learning, or otherwise growing in your organization is a huge challenge that training alone can’t solve.
And, of course, not getting levels of “buy-in,” or having a lack of skin in the game, can lead to the development of disengagement and increase conflict cycles—or make them more toxic when they explode.
Combatting Employee Disengagement Requires Prioritizing Employee Engagement
The key to creating and retaining engaged employees is to actually engage with them.
And, according to the same Dale Carnegie and Gallup Organization studies that track employee disengagement, “the number one factor  cited influencing engagement and disengagement was “relationship with immediate supervisor.”
This fact speaks directly to developing emotional intelligence and emotional illiteracy in the approach and posture of mid-level managers and supervisors in an organization.
However, too many organizations still prefer to have disengaged staff and team members who are coming to work to grind through their eight to twelve hour days and then go home. Or, these days, do that grinding from home with children, spouses, and other distractions bouncing around them like Virginia jackrabbits.
And, of course, all of this disengagement is carried out underneath the watchful, remote, and digital and virtual eyes of supervisors and managers employees may not respect, appreciate, or even remotely like.
Well there are several possible ways to repair this problem, increase engagement, and reduce burnout, and in a post-COVID-19 work world, there is no better time than now to execute and implement them:
- Training, supporting, encouraging, and compensating supervisors and managers for actively engaging in empathetic interactions with employees, even when it appears to be immediate, “bottom line” unproductive;
- Developing organizational cultures—especially critical in work from home and remote/hybrid workforce scenarios–that truly allow caring and inclusion to be active values, not just ones that appear on the masthead or at the company party;
- Encouraging C-suite and above individuals who set the corporate tone to seek out developmental coaching and therapy to understand why they tick.
Executing on these areas aggressively in a post-COVID-19 work world will begin to put the meat on the bones of the first, genuine, disruption of the workplace—and the emotions, ideas, and expectations around behaviors in the workplace—of the 21st century.