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How to solve employee disengagement in the virtual workplace

The workplace has overwhelmingly been a turbulent environment over the past 18 months for everyone. Personal stressors and concerns due to COVID-19, coupled with suddenly adapting to working from home away from their colleagues, created a perfect storm for employee disengagement.

According to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2021, 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job.

At a surface level, employee disengagement could seem to be an innocuous issue – if employees are doing the work required of them, what is the issue?

However, disengaged employees can have a significantly negative impact on company performance and employee retention.


The basics of employee engagement

Employee engagement can be categorised into three categories according to Gallup:

  1. Engaged: All-star employees, who are highly involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace and ultimately move the organisation forward.
  2. Not engaged: Employees who are psychologically unattached to their work and company, are doing the bare minimum in their role by putting time—without energy or passion—into their work.
  3. Actively disengaged: Employees who aren’t only unhappy at work, but are actively expressing their unhappiness in a way that hurts team performance.


Why employee disengagement matters

There is a noticeable difference in performance output between someone who does the bare minimum versus someone motivated and constantly looking to improve processes and striving for better results.

Even worse, employees who are actively disengaged may even fall behind on completing the tasks and goals in their job description.

This has clear ramifications: engaged employees tend to be more productive, leading to higher products and higher customer ratings. There is also the benefit of low turnover rates amongst a satisfied workforce.

These impacts cumulate to monetary cost on a large scale: Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workforce report found that low employee engagement costs the global economy $8.1 trillion annually.


Getting employees engaged again

Once employee disengagement has been identified, employers can take a number of steps to resolve this, encompassing both incentive and pay issues and problems related more to morale and company culture.


Culture - HR should re-examine company values, missions and leadership from the top-down

Culture has a significant impact on company morale and engagement. It is an extremely important part of a successful workplace, dictating how employees interact and how much they want to be at work.

Citrix’s survey across Europe found 89% of respondents said a company culture that promotes mental or physical wellbeing is important to them.

Regular one-on-one meetings are a good way to gauge employee feelings and give them space to share. With company culture disrupted by remote working, it’s even more important to check in regularly with employees and establish clear, uniting objectives. 


Pay - adopt digital transformation and benchmark pay

One of the top reasons employees leave jobs is for a higher-paying position. To attract and retain top talent, compensation plans and pay mix must be competitive in the industry and individual roles.

Adopting digital transformation and utilising artificial intelligence to gather historical and industry data can help leaders benchmark their compensation to ensure fair, equal, and competitive pay.

For sales specific roles, digitising compensation plans is particularly important. Whereas traditionally, reps have been paid weeks after the sale has been made, using real-time analytics to give reps instant visibility over their compensation just before the point of sale will engage them far more effectively.


Collaboration challenges - invest in technology that facilitates smooth collaboration

Whereas video conferencing and chat applications are not new concepts for businesses, they have become an absolute necessity over the past 18 months.

Your organisation’s technology plays a critical role in bringing together global and local workforces to ensure that employees can continue to feel the benefits of collaborative environments, despite not being in the office.

Xactly uses Slack (ask the CEO anything as an example), Donut (a “Coffee Chat” collaboration tool that integrates with Slack to help build connections among fellow employees across all geographies), virtual collaboration sessions with the CEO and other key leaders which fosters connections and collaboration between key employees and leaders.


The urgency of engagement

Whether hybrid or remote working is new to your workforce or not, chances are that your employees are beginning to feel disconnected from their co-workers and organisation. This is because most of their working hours are now logged from home, in comparison to only a few previously.

Combined with the stress and uncertainty of the current state of the world brought forth by the global pandemic, this creates the perfect storm for disengagement.

Leaders should act quickly to tackle this issue using the steps above to avoid the monetary and productivity cost of disengagement at a mass scale.


Leanne Bernhardt is chief human resource officer at Xactly