The Lifecyle of a Disengaged Employee

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Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.” — Simon Sinek

For a large part of my career, I held three jobs.  I had my 9 – 5 corporate job, I organized workshops teaching lean startup to entrepreneurs, and I consulted local businesses on digital marketing.  Needless to say I was a very busy guy.

My parents constantly complained that I never came to visit.  When I told them about the two extra jobs I was juggling, my mom was impressed with my work ethic.   She said, “You must be making a lot of money now since you work three jobs.”  I replied, “Nope, I make just as much working three jobs as I do with one.” Her jaw dropped.


She couldn’t believe it.  She couldn’t understand how anyone could take on two more jobs and not make any money from it.

For the amount of hours I put in organizing workshops and what I got paid, it came out to something like $4.00/hr.  I knew very little about digital marketing, so I did pro bono consulting to gain experience and help local businesses grow and thrive online.

I didn’t care about making money.  I only cared about creating value and impact for others and was willing to work for little to no money to do it.

I kept my corporate job because I needed to pay my bills but I was miserable.  I always looked forward to 5pm because that’s when I got to work on my other jobs.  I hated that I couldn’t have the same passion, the same excitement with my corporate job.  I hated being disengaged.

Below is what I call the lifecycle of a disengaged employee.  I can’t say this is what every disengaged employee goes through but I’m sharing what I know from my own experience.

Stage 1: Taking Your Vows

The relationship between an employer and employee is like a marriage.  Usually one party courts the other (recruiting), they spend some time getting to know each other (interviewing), if the employer wants to take the relationship to the next level they propose (the offer letter), and if the employee is ready to make a long term commitment, he or she accepts.

And like a real marriage, both parties come into the relationship with the very best intentions; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.  But also like a real marriage, it is susceptible to divorce if a negative idea is allowed to take root by…

Stage 2: Inception

Inception is one of my favorite movies of all time.  Aside from the amazing special effects, the storyline is great too.  It’s crazy to think that you can change a person’s life by planting a thought into their mind, but that’s how an employee becomes disengaged.

Nobody ever wakes up and chooses to be disengaged.  It starts as a negative thought that is planted deep within a person’s mind.  The more the person feels unheard, disempowered, and unfulfilled, the more that thought begins to grow until the person is….

Stage 3: Infected

Once an employee is infected, the threat of disengagement becomes reality.  Employees who are infected begin to show signs of disengagement.

These signs include:

  • Doing the bare minimum.  They don’t invest because there is no opportunity for larger impact.
  • Little to no involvement in work matters. They don’t care because they aren’t being heard.
  • Poor quality of work.  The lack of strong leadership can create issues like job scope creep and confusion about priorities.
  • Bouts of anger and frustration.  Employees begin to act out because they aren’t given the support they need from management.

If left untreated, the disengaged employee becomes….

Stage 4: The Working Dead

I want to make one clarification here.  A disengaged employee is not a bad employee.  Bad employees have poor character flaws.  Disengaged employees are good people who have become frustrated because the company culture doesn’t support them.

When an employee becomes the working dead, it is almost impossible to reverse the process.  Like a zombie, the employee is devoid of any mental and emotional presence.  Being at work becomes a brainless activity that yields very little fulfillment.

The only thing left to do is to….

Stage 5: Put An End to The Misery

Either the disengaged employee will find something better and leave or the employer is forced to terminate him or her due to several reasons listed in Stage 3.  Either way, this is a relationship that doesn’t end well.

And what happens if the culture doesn’t change?  What happens when another employee becomes the working dead?  What is the cost in dollars for time lost, production lost, and wasted resources on hiring and firing?

When I started Culture Summit, I knew very little about building culture.  I’ve never founded a company and I’ve never managed people. I started Culture Summit because I wanted to solve my own problems as a disengaged employee.

Many people think that culture belongs in HR and I’m here to change that.  The speakers at Culture Summit are founders, leaders, and experts who have built and impacted cultural change in their companies.

They don’t just talk the talk, they happen to walk it too.

And they will show you exactly what to do to immediately create change in your company.  If you’re ready to go beyond the fluff, then come join us.

Early bird tickets end next week.  Register today before prices go up.

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