Employee Disengagement Flows from Poor Leadership

Employee Disengagement Flows from Poor Leadership

Christine Porath is an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, and has polled tens of thousands of workers worldwide about how they are treated at work.

She writes: “Leadership is crucial. In my research, the numberone attribute that garnered commitment and engagement from employees was respect from their leaders. In fact, no other leadership behavior had a greater effect on employees across the outcomes measured. Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback, or even providing opportunities for learning, growth, and development.”

Christine shared that her research showed employees reported “much higher levels of health and well-being; derived greater enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning from their jobs; and had better focus and a greater ability to prioritize. Those feeling respected were also much more likely to engage with work tasks and more likely to stay with their organization.”

My experience is overwhelmingly consistent with Christine’s research and points to the impact of great or poor leadership. Three times in my corporate career, I was hired by a top executive who had a big vision; he hired me as someone who could help make improvements to achieve his vision. Three times that leader left the company or moved to another division. In all three cases, I was considered a high performer and was high on the potential promotion list. In each of these situations, my performance was excellent, as I worked for the great leader. Also, in each of these situations, I was asked to leave the company by the poor leader.

I wonder how much my performance suffered under the leadership of the poor leader. I never received negative performance feedback from those leaders until I was asked to leave. Truth be told, I know my attitude slipped a lot in the transition from a great boss to a poor one. I was emotionally disengaged. I was hired to make things better, but the poor leaders didn’t share the same vision as the great leader. I am sure I was a pain to the poor leader because I was on a mission to make improvements in a way they hadn’t envisioned. If someone’s performance dips dramatically, is it solely their actions that creates the slippage? I was discouraged and depressed. I didn’t think my performance suffered, but I couldn’t change my attitude and I judged the poor leaders as being terrible leaders who didn’t care about their people.

In one of my ‘situations,’ I was asked by my boss to meet with him to talk about my performance. I had never heard any constructive feedback from this person before and thought my performance was good. In fact, he immediately commented that I was the hardest-working person on his team and was working on the most important project, based on a new idea I had created. I felt good because he seemed to be very genuine about his appreciation for everything that I was currently doing.

His next comment floored me because it was so far from what he had just said. I thought it had to be a joke. He said, “I’m sorry, but you have to leave the company and I can’t give you any severance, you have three weeks to find another job.” I laughed and then quickly caught his nonverbals which told me he was not kidding. Whoa – what a huge shift. It knocked me off my feet. I said, “You must be kidding me. Are you serious? What did I do?” He of course, was unwilling to tell me much, but said it was because the top two people didn’t “like me.”

I have talked to many people who suffered or are suffering greatly. They suffer mentally, and emotionally. Their mental states are impacted, they become angry, depressed, and lose their energy and willingness to go the extra mile, by poor leadership. There is no doubt that when I was working for the poor leader that I didn’t have high energy, because I didn’t trust or feel respected by my boss.