How Employees Go From Engaged to Disenchanted in 5 Steps

Written by Professor Adrian Furnham Tuesday 21 July 2015
A fully engaged employee can help drive a business forward, but when bad management starts to turn workers against the company chaos can ensue. Find out about the five management mistakes that can turn a model employee into a vengeful organisational terro
bored employee

Many organisations experience the considerable cost of disenchanted and vengeful workers who partake in a number of counterwork behaviours, which they believe somehow acts as reparations for the injustice they feel.

The aggrieved and passed-over employee has a number of options to disrupt the workplace they have lost faith in: leave, work less hard, ‘liberate stock, agitate through some collective body and all of the above.

Few employees start off disenchanted by their organisation, but they can easily be turned sour by their experiences and the way they are treated.

It seems there are five reasons why people go from engaged to disenchanted; productive to subversive; or a friend to an enemy.

Five Ways To Turn Your Engaged Employees Against You

1. Organisational lying/hypocrisy

This is the perception by the employee that what the organisation says about itself in public and even to its employees is a pack of lies. The more the organisation tries to capture the moral high ground and come out on ‘the side of the angels’, the more outraged the astounded and angry insider becomes.

2. Perceived inequity

The idea that some people in the organisation are treated very differently from others.  The hottest word at work is fair: that people are fairly assessed, promoted and rewarded.  Yet, it can seem to some that loyalty, hard work and productivity have less to do with success than some other attributes such as demography, brown-nosing or particular experiences.

3. Bullying and mistreatment

This is the belief that some senior people are callous, uncaring, nasty and manipulative - and that you are a victim. The workplace attracts all types: the demanding perfectionist, the geeky inadequate, the flamboyant self-publicist. This is to be expected and we all have to adapt to the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of powerful people at work.

4. Distrust

The feeling that the organisation does not even trust its own employees.  It may have put in place a number of devious and not-admitted (often electronic monitoring) systems to spy on its own people. Whilst top management may talk about and demand loyalty from the staff, it is clear that they are not trusted by their employees.

5. Broken promises

This is all about expectations not being met. For some, the selection interview and the induction period are where people set your expectations about working for the organisation. They tell you what they stand for, what they expect and how things work.

So what to do? The answer lies in training and mentoring and ultimately the corporate culture which accepts and even encourages behaviours that lead to disenchantment. It is possible to run an annual survey which may pick up disenchantment in individuals and groups and plot this over time. It then becomes important to alert managers and leaders which of their actions encourages disenchantment and how to change them. This is an ongoing task, but one in which there is a very impressive return-on-investment. It is both too easy and misleading to believe counterwork behaviours are caused by “bad people” who have not been well selected. Most people come to work to do a good job but the five behaviours above can easily turn a honest worker into a vengeful organisational terrorist aiming to restore justice in a world they deem too unfair or too cruel.

Professor Adrian Furnham

Professor Adrian Furnham

Business psychologist and author of 80 books and 1,000 scientific papers. He is an adjunct professor at the Norwegian Business School.