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We read a lot about how to engage employees. However, the reality is that engagement is a choice. The best we can do is create an environment in which employees can choose to be engaged. So, does the opposite hold true? Can our actions cause disengagement to occur? Our employee survey research shows a clear and resounding “YES!”

Here are five employee engagement worst-practices that are surefire ways to disengage your employees. (OK, I may have exaggerated a couple of points.) Whether you take a proactive approach to avoid committing any of these engagement sins or you continue your reign as a tyrannical and caustic manager is entirely your choice. (If you fall under the latter category, I really hope your employees find better work.)

    • Destroy any and all sense of meaning
      Remember that personally identifiable, honorable, and energizing company mission of yours? Yeah, don’t share that—especially not with employees. Keep it to yourself. If you do share your company mission, make sure it’s printed on a key chain or t-shirt—nothing deep. If any of your employees find meaning and purpose in their job, remind them that their main responsibility is to make money for the company. Make sure everyone understands that they’re not working to save dolphins or feed the hungry—you never can be too careful. Oh, and the old “You should just be grateful to have a job in this economy!” goes a long way.
    • Don’t let employees make their own decisions
      Make sure any and all decisions require a three- to five-step approval process. So an entry-level employee comes up with a killer marketing concept? Great, she can address her department manager and all of her peers in a two-hour meeting held on the third Tuesday of every other month at noon (no time for lunch if you have groundbreaking ideas to discuss). Committees are especially helpful here. Don’t stop at stifling new ideas, though; let your micromanaging prowess kill any employee’s sense of self-direction or autonomy. After all, if it were a good idea, you would have implemented it long ago. Right?
    • Never challenge your employees
      Don’t assign tasks that would challenge or stretch an employee to learn and grow. Such tasks are simply distractions from employees’ daily duties. The workplace is not a time to learn; it’s a time to implement. Isn’t college the place to get that education? Remember how your new hire talked about his aspirations for learning new skills and taking on new, more challenging tasks with your company? Well, achieving those dreams is not your responsibility (unless, of course, you can manipulate the employee into thinking that all of this grunt work is “for his own good”). Challenging your employees to grow and develop is just opening the door for more mistakes, not to mention the fact that they’ll take all of this learning to another company when they leave. So, what? You’re going to educate them so that someone else can take advantage of your investment. I don’t think so!
    • Downplay any positive results
      Despite your best efforts, one of your most exuberant Millennial employees (darn that generation) might have done something so well that it increased quarterly revenues. Don’t let him find out—and take credit for his actions. Telling him that he was responsible for increasing profitability would make him think that he is making a contribution to the success of the company. Don’t let your employees know that their actions create measurable impact. It’s not that we don’t want to share the credit—that’s bad form; it’s that some employees start thinking that we can’t operate without them. Yes, we appreciate your contributions, but isn’t that exactly what you’re being paid for—results?
    • Don’t let employees talk to each other
      Every company has a grapevine, each with key players who are able to spread news more quickly than any other communication resource at your disposal. Because these grapevines can be damaging, prohibit social interaction between your employees. You’ll effectively eliminate the grapevine and improve productivity, right? “More working, less socializing” sounds like a great mission statement to me. You know those conversations going on in the lunchroom? Do you really think they’re work-related? What a waste of time. Besides, much of the work today is being done remotely—you know, conference calls, email, et cetera.

If you’re looking to disengage your workforce, apply any—or all—of these tips and you’re sure to be successful. Maybe you’re in a company that already buys into some of these ideas; share your stories with us. Do you have any other employee engagement worst-practices to share?

About Reese Haydon

Reese is the Marketing Specialist at DecisionWise. His professional experience comes from working with the Organizational Leadership and Strategy department at Brigham Young University, the editorial team at brass Media, Inc., and other teams in both for- and non-profit organizations.

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