Understanding Why Your Employees Are Saturated and Disengaged

Employees can become saturated and disengaged when the job they are performing is not in line with what they are passionate about. That’s why it’s key to determine your employees’ passion drivers.

Intrinsically, individuals exhibit different levels of passion. The anchors and drivers that account for their passion are deeply ingrained in their unique individual personalities. For example, a person who is self-driven is motivated by autonomy, creativity, and clarity on sense of purpose. A person who is secular in his or her passion orientation—i.e., someone who is motivated when they receive the required support from their organization—is motivated by recognition, meaningful work, and mastery. And a person who is socially driven—i.e., someone who looks at his friends, colleagues, or superiors for encouragement—may have collaboration, connectedness to colleagues, and diversity as his or her key passion drivers.

The levels of passion generally exhibited by an individual with regard to his work place can be defined as:

  • Involvement: Association stage—Employees get into an organization and are assigned a role/job and gradually associate themselves with that particular job.
  • Acknowledgement: Recognition stage—Employees begin to get credit for their good work and become familiar with people around them.
  • Attachment: Connection stage—Employees start connecting with their work and the people around them.
  • Engagement: Culture stage—Employees adhere to the organization’s culture and are emotionally and rationally committed.
  • Passion: Realization stage—Employees discover their potential and further align with their passion indicators to raise the bar on their own performance; it’s beyond engagement.

From a passion point of view, a saturated employee is one who is thoroughly disengaged with his or her work. There could be two reasons for this.

1. When passion drivers are misaligned—i.e., when the job performed by an employee is not in line with what he or she is passionate about. This is a common cause for saturation and manifests itself in the following signs:

  • If Mastery is a passion driver that is not being realized from the task performed, then a saturated employee will exhibit lack of interest in the day-to-day activities of the job—especially if the nature of the task is repetitive and mundane—constant delays in time to complete a task, and a gradual slump in the quality of work produced, among other things.
  • An employee for whom Autonomy is not being realized would display poor relations, characterized by constant tensions with seniors/peers, especially in high command-control environments.
  • An employee for whom Work/Life Balance is a primary motivator will constantly be under stress and, as a result, will make frequent mistakes, leading to further stress.
  • If Collaboration is not being experienced, the employee will show constant negativity toward work and will begin to make excuses when the task is not completed.

2. Secondary reasons could be that the employee is at the Involvement and Attachment level of passion. Essentially, employees in these levels are working with their hands but not with their head or heart. A saturated employee would exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Hesitance to put in extra effort that is required to bring that extra bit of quality
  • Lack enthusiasm about learning new things; avoidance of taking up tasks outside his or her own comfort zone
  • Quick to pass the blame to someone else and avoid taking responsibility for failure
  • Poor levels of communication
  • Dissociation and distancing from the team
  • Highly selective and calculative about people and tasks he or she is willing to associate with

These are just a few indicators of a saturated employee. Saturation leads to disengagement gradually over a period of time. Therefore it often not detected or dealt with until a later stage. At this point, the employee is completely disillusioned with the system and the work and his or her apprehensions are deep seated in his or her mind. Addressing these symptoms up front can help an organization avoid losing productivity and performance.

Prithvi Shergill is the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at HCL Technologies, a leading global IT services provider.