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The Savvy Office Manager

Uh oh! My whole staff is disengaged

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Cal Butera

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in The Savvy Office Manager


Every organization has one or two employees who can be labeled as hopelessly disengaged, totally unplugged and here just for the paycheck and other trimmings you call benefits.

As a manager, you can easily spot them and fix them with the timeworn, but effective, ultimatum: “Shape up, or ship out.”

But what about the disengagement that permeates the whole workplace? You know, that general malaise that perniciously crept through all the cubicles and turned once-chipper workers into semi-functional zombies who still need health benefits.

Here are the two sources of viral disengagement and what you can do about it.

1. Upper management, a.k.a. the owners and the chief-whatever-officers. This is where the mission, vision and true belief in the product or service either has a clear direction for the workers or it doesn’t.

If it’s muddled, there’s trouble. Employees need to know where, how and why the whole thing is headed, in order to feel like a vital wheel or wire in the machine. If confused or misguided, they will adopt their own mission: Do just enough to keep the company solvent and preserve their jobs.

Unfortunately, there is little a front-line manager could do to change what’s coming down from the top, but he or she can manage with integrity, honesty and a department mission that can hold the troops together. The loyalty you get in return counts for something.

2. You. For the most part your employees came on board with a passion for what they do and a sense that your organization was the place to do it. A win-win for both. But what happened? Why do they look like they don’t want to be here? Why are they doing the bare minimum? Why don’t they get along?

If upper management is not the problem, then you might be. Check your behavior. Do you play favorites, belittle, ignore efforts, tell lies, misinform, recklessly delegate, play mind games or bully? You know the adage: Employees don’t leave jobs; they leave bad bosses.

And the ones who don’t leave? Those are the semi-functional zombies. Thriving on paychecks and health benefits.


Cal Butera is the editor of Business Management Daily’s Office Manager Today, Manager’s Legal Bulletin, Managing People at Work and Communication Briefings newsletters. He has been with Business Management Daily since 2007 and worked 22 years for midsize daily newspapers as sports writer, news reporter, layout and design editor, copy editor and city editor.

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