Three Best Practices For Solving Employee Disengagement In 2024

Leadership | Collaboration

Three Best Practices For Solving Employee Disengagement In 2024

Article originally published for Forbes Business Council and reprinted with permission.

Today’s workforce is more differentiated than ever before. While some companies and teams are doubling down on in-office work, others are dispersing, making remote or hybrid work a permanent part of their work culture. These multifaceted experiences have a curious commonality: People are disengaging at alarming rates.

According to Gallup’s annual engagement survey, employee engagement is declining for the first time in a decade. This experience is widespread across sectors, demographics and workplace arrangements. As the survey headline declared, “U.S. employee engagement needs a rebound in 2023.”

So far, the rebound hasn’t materialized.

Businesses are quick to blame employees for their declining engagement, then shocked when these same individuals inevitably depart in search of greater opportunities elsewhere. In reality, I believe employee engagement is largely a leadership and cultural issue. It's crucial for attracting, retaining, developing and promoting top talent. We know that people tend to grow when provided opportunities that stretch them beyond their comfort zones and when they connect with the company’s mission and values. In contrast, many leave organizations because they don't feel challenged or fully utilized.

The bottom line: If employees don't connect with a company's mission and don't feel valued, involved or challenged, they are more likely to seek employment elsewhere. Based on my experience, here are three best practices and key ingredients for cultivating employee engagement and ensuring that your company is best positioned to attract, retain, develop and promote its people.


1. As a leader, invest quality time with your employees.

Leaders frequently assume that everything is going well as long as the work is getting done. Too often, we don’t realize this isn’t the case until employees break, burn out, become unmotivated and uninspired by the daily grind, and disconnect from their leaders. According to one analysis, just 65% of employees think their organization demonstrates care, while a separate employee survey (subscription required) found that a “good boss” is the second leading driver of job satisfaction.

Simply put, employees need to be seen and known to be successful.

As a leader, how well do you know employees on a personal level? Do you know their hobbies, spouses or kids' names? By investing time, you can build relationships and understanding on a deeper level, creating more intentionality and understanding of how to support, encourage and motivate.


2. Find ways to communicate that employees matter and invest in their future.

Employees need to know that their jobs and skills matter to the organization—especially with the rapid rise of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in the workplace, which is producing widespread fear and anxiety about job retention among many workers.

Practically, leaders can help employees identify and invest in the necessary skills that help them maintain relevance regardless of technological changes. The future labor market will be more digital and automated, requiring employees to add value that is different and beyond what can be done by a machine or AI algorithm. Communicate this value and invest in their future by cultivating the skills that will matter most, including the ability to understand and evaluate biases, collaboration, resolving conflict, digital ethics, structured problem-solving and organizational change drivers.

Notably, I recommend focusing on skills, not degrees. This can help ensure your employees have the core competencies to thrive in an evolving professional environment.


3. Consider how you might more deeply involve employees in the business.

Employees need to be involved and trusted. In my experience, involvement can create a number of powerful byproducts, including a greater understanding of the core business, access and interactions with senior-level decision-makers, increased collaboration and teamwork and, most importantly, employee engagement, which drives discretionary effort.

A practical way to make this happen centers around decision-making. If you have challenges in your business (and every business has challenges), do you find ways to involve and engage your employees? Do front-line employees have the autonomy and empowerment to make certain decisions? Are they being given the space and permission to think for themselves? By allowing employees greater exposure, insight and ownership into certain business areas, you can also create unique learning opportunities to coach, encourage reflection and grow.

Empowering teams to make business decisions can be challenging for many executives because it involves giving up control, and they may feel like their power is being reduced. However, I've found that appropriate delegation of certain decisions can be extremely effective in building employee motivation, skill and engagement.

Consider delegating decisions to individuals who have specific knowledge or expertise in a particular area. Additionally, if there is a team that is working inefficiently, challenge them to map out their core processes and propose three things they would do differently (roles, structure, approach, tools, etc.). Involving others has a way of sparking engagement and creative business ideas.

The Ritz-Carlton, the luxury hotel operator, provides a good example of empowering people to make decisions. They allow frontline employees to utilize their judgment, expertise, creativity and up to $2,000 per incident to provide exceptional customer service. Empowerment may look different at different companies, but it’s representative of how companies can more deeply involve and empower their employees, thereby driving employee engagement.


Discard disengagement in 2024.

Engagement is an outcome of a business's environment. When the environment is designed and shaped in a way so that employees feel known, heard, involved, developed and challenged, you can expect to see stronger employee engagement as a byproduct. This is the return on the involvement aspect that can drive business outcomes.

As business leaders, we need to put aside our own thoughts sometimes and really listen to our employees. I believe that being intentional in building relationships, communicating one's value, investing in skill development and involving employees in decisions are keys to discarding disengagement in 2024 and beyond.


Ready to tackle disengagement in your team? Consider exploring our Managing with Impact™ program, designed for those stepping into leadership roles. Dive deeper into building relationships, communicating value, investing in skill development, and empowering your team to make impactful decisions.

The original Forbes Business Council article can be found here.

About Chris Williams

Chris’ experience includes work in operations, recruiting, and complex research. He has supported senior-level executives in a variety of industries including economic development, government contracting, and strategy consulting. Chris holds a BA in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.