Gallup talks about three types of employees: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged or, as we would say, toxic.  Engaged employees are all in.   Disengaged employees show up, do their job, then go home.  Toxic employees are actively working against the company.

Almost everyone flows in and out of these three categories throughout their careers.  An employee starts at a new company excited and ready to work.  The job becomes boring or they aren’t challenged and the employee becomes disengaged.  If an injustice occurs such as the employee getting passed up for a promotion they felt they deserved, the employee becomes toxic. 

People Centric companies are constantly working towards empowerment and alignment.  These two factors are useful in determining the source of engagement, disengagement, and toxicity. 

An empowered person recognizes their own potential and looks to apply that potential.  How they choose to apply their potential at work depends on their alignment with their employer.  If the empowered person is very aligned with their employer, they will be engaged.  Engaged employees are, by far, the most effective.  Companies with more engaged employees see significant benefits in profitability, quality, customer service, turnover, safety, and productivity. 

If the empowered person is not aligned with their employer, they tend to become toxic.  They actively push back against their employer using whatever they can find within their power.  Some toxic employees use their power through an apparent poor attitude.  Others use it more subversively by holding “after meetings” where they actively look to recruit others to their cause.  Toxic employees are as damaging to companies they work for as engaged employees are beneficial.  Even one toxic person on a team can decrease the productivity of the entire team by 30-40%!

Someone who feels less empowered tends to be resigned to their fate.  Alignment is less important for a less empowered person.  Even if the person is excited about what the company is doing, the less empowered person doesn’t see how they can be a meaningful part of the what is going on.  If the company is doing something that the employee doesn’t like, the less empowered employee tends to feel disassociated with what is going on.  Disengaged employees make up about 50% of the US population, so they can be thought of as delivering status quo results.  They do their job, but you don’t get much more than that. 

 If you consider the impact of empowerment and alignment on engagement, it highlights what is attractive about old school management principles.  In the traditional boss/employee relationship, the employee does their job because they are paid to do it.  Empowerment is not in the equation.  This tends to prevent toxicity, but it also prevents engagement.  Old school management gets average results. 

Some employers spend a lot of time working to help their employees discover their own potential, but don’t spend enough time building alignment with those same employees.  These employers are rewarded with a mix of engaged and toxic employees. 

This is why it is so important to implement People Centric systems that support both empowerment and alignment.  Its not easy, but it is also the single biggest opportunity for every organization.  Engaged employees are everything.  They are the ones who turn problems into opportunities.  They are the ones who beat the competition.  They are the ones who keep your customers.  They are the ones who attract new employees who also want to be engaged.

If you want your people to be at their best and drive success in your organization, focus on empowerment and alignment and constantly strive to balance the two. 

Categories: Culture

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