Emotional Divorce: Impact on Workplace Engagement

10 min read
4 July 2023

Due to the increasing need for technology, the current workplace can result in emotional disconnections, leading to a "divorce in the workplace," where employees feel disconnected from their employers.

Emotional divorce can negatively impact individuals and their workplaces, resulting in decreased motivation, productivity, loyalty, and creativity. How can we address this disconnect while supporting employees and ensuring they feel valued? What drives employee engagement in the workplace, and how can leaders leverage this?

Enjoyment, Empowerment, and Emotional Connection

Improving Employee Engagement with Motivated Leadership

In 2009, my esteemed colleague Anne Das Gupta, who was the Head of Organisational Effectiveness at Singtel Optus, embarked on a groundbreaking engagement project within her organization. Her charismatic personality and natural leadership skills, coupled with the support of a highly regarded executive gave me some latitude as a consultant to conduct a consulting piece of work and do extensive research on engagement at work.

After conducting many focus groups and surveying hundreds of people within the organisation, the research revealed that enjoyment, empowerment and emotional connection were the primary drivers to keeping people engaged, much more than understanding the vision of the organisation, as other research studies had previously suggested.

As the years went by, these three key elements became the guiding principles for me to continue doing further work on engagement and corroborating the original findings. Since then, it has become even more clear that if organisations want to achieve higher levels of performance, they need to be creating the conditions for people:

  • To connect with one another as a vital source of resilience and endurance
  • To feel empowered and take ownership of their roles as the way forward
  • To enjoy what they are doing

From Feedback to Growth: Fostering Emotional Connections and Employee Engagement

Emotional connection is just as vital now as it was in years past, despite the modern-day complexities of the workplace. In fact, in an era where technology often dominates our professional interactions, fostering emotional connections is even more crucial.

Promoting and cultivating these important relationships is imperative as we tackle the challenges of the modern work environment and strive for employee engagement that goes beyond surface-level interactions.

How Can We Build Team Engagement and Engage Employees?

Although remote work provides flexibility and convenience, it can lead to isolation and detachment. As a remote worker, I know how difficult it can be without social interactions and collaborative environments to foster strong bonds.

While virtual meetings and instant messaging play a role in maintaining communication, they often fall short when it comes to creating the deep human connection found in face-to-face interactions.

Emotional Divorce in the Workplace and How It Affects Employee Engagement

An Engaged Workforce is a Happier Workforce

That sense of camaraderie built during coffee breaks, team lunches, and even casual hallway conversations can be elusive in a remote setting. Bridging this emotional gap while cultivating a sense of belonging amongst remote teams should be part of an organization's mission.

Moreover, the gig economy exacerbates the challenge of fostering emotional connections by causing fragmentation and instability in the workforce. With its transient nature and frequent transitions between employers and projects, the gig economy can hinder the development of long-lasting relationships nurtured within a single workplace.

Job insecurity and the constant search for new opportunities can leave employees feeling disconnected and prevent them from fully investing in their work or forming meaningful connections with colleagues. Other employees may also feel the pinch if people are not fully invested.

Employee Engagement Strategies to Enhance Company Culture

To promote emotional connections, we must recognize the importance of oxytocin, also known as the bonding hormone. Oxytocin plays a vital role in human bonding and social interactions. It is released through positive actions like smiling, meaningful conversations, and acts of kindness, creating trust, empathy, and connection between individuals.

In remote work scenarios, finding alternative ways to stimulate the release of oxytocin and foster emotional connections is crucial. Employers and individuals alike can incorporate strategies that promote oxytocin release, even from a distance. 

Effective Strategies for Employee Engagement

1. Prioritize meaningful conversations:

Encourage open and honest communication among team members. Foster an environment where individuals can share their thoughts, concerns, and personal experiences. Actively listen to one another and provide genuine support and empathy.

2. Virtual team-building activities:

Organise virtual team-building activities that promote collaboration and foster a sense of camaraderie. These activities include virtual coffee breaks, online games, or even virtual fitness challenges. The goal is to create opportunities for social interaction and shared experiences.

3. Recognition and appreciation:

Expressing gratitude and recognizing the efforts of team members can significantly contribute to emotional connections. Publicly acknowledge individuals for their achievements, both big and small. A simple gesture of employee recognition can go a long way in fostering a sense of belonging and emotional connection.

Communication and a Strong Leadership Team can Increase Employee Engagement

Providing platforms for open and honest communication, such as anonymous feedback channels or regular feedback sessions, allows employees to express their thoughts and concerns, further strengthening emotional connections.

Additionally, leaders can play a pivotal role in creating an inclusive and supportive work environment by utilizing some of these drivers of employee engagement. Whether in a remote, traditional, or hybrid work environment, leaders must actively seek ways to bridge the emotional gap and create a sense of belonging.

By prioritizing initiatives that promote open communication, team-building activities, and supportive leadership, organizations can cultivate emotional connections that not only foster employee engagement but also contribute to the overall success and well-being of their workforce.

Employee Disengagement Costs: How to Motivate Employees

Emotional divorce profoundly impacts individuals, leading to feelings of apathy, disillusionment, and disengagement. This lack of emotional support and connection can negatively affect mental well-being, leading to increased stress and burnout. And it's not just individuals who suffer--organizations bear the brunt of it as well.

A lack of emotional connection can affect overall job satisfaction and a sense of purpose, decreasing motivation and productivity. This hampers creativity, collaboration, and innovation, as trust-building and the free flow of ideas diminish in such an environment.

Organizational Success: Better Business Outcomes and Less Lost Productivity

Reduced employee engagement and satisfaction can result in higher turnover rates, increasing recruitment and training costs. When employees lack an emotional connection to their workplace, they are less likely to invest in their company's long-term success, resulting in reduced loyalty and dedication.

This lack of connection hinders teamwork and collaboration, impeding the organization's ability to adapt to change and remain competitive. Innovative ideas flourish in environments where employees feel connected, supported, and valued. Without emotional bonds, organizations may struggle to foster a positive work culture that promotes trust, communication, and a shared sense of purpose.

Measuring Employee Engagement: When Senior Leaders Want People Back in the Office

In his thought-provoking analysis, renowned HR analyst Josh Bersin[1] raises compelling arguments against the idea of reverting entirely back to traditional workplace models. Bersin challenges the notion that a complete return to pre-pandemic work arrangements is optimal for organizations moving forward.

Why Returning Entirely to Pre-Pandemic Work Arrangements May Not Be the Best Option for Business Success – Examining Josh Bersin's Analysis

1. Employee Preferences and Well-being:

Bersin emphasizes that many employees have experienced the benefits of remote work during the pandemic, such as improved work-life balance, reduced commuting time, and increased flexibility. Returning employees to the workplace without considering their preferences and well-being could lead to declining job satisfaction and morale. Increasing the employee experience means improving productivity and also an organization's success.

2. Employee Retention and Attraction:

Bersin points out that organizations that embrace remote or hybrid work models have a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, meaning reduced employee turnover and increased employee satisfaction. Many individuals now prioritize flexibility and work-life balance, and companies that fail to adapt to these evolving expectations may struggle to attract and retain skilled employees.

3. Productivity and Performance:

Contrary to common misconceptions, remote work has shown positive outcomes in terms of productivity for many organizations. Employees often report higher levels of focus and fewer distractions when working remotely. A shift back to traditional workplaces without considering the benefits of remote work may hinder productivity and performance.

4. Agility and Resilience:

The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of organizational agility and resilience. Remote work models offer flexibility and adaptability during times of crisis, enabling corporations to continue operations with minimal disruption. By embracing remote or hybrid work, organizations can enhance their ability to navigate future challenges effectively.

5. Cost Savings:

Remote work can lead to substantial cost savings for employees and businesses. Employees save on commuting expenses, meals, and professional attire, while organizations can reduce expenses related to office space, utilities, and other facilities. Ignoring these potential cost savings by mandating a total return to the workplace may be shortsighted.

6. Environmental Impact:

Remote work reduces carbon emissions associated with commuting and lowers the overall ecological footprint of organizations. Embracing remote work models can contribute to sustainable practices and align with an organization's environmental goals.

Do Hybrid Models Support Highly Engaged Employees?

It is essential to note that Bersin does not advocate for a complete elimination of the physical workplace. Instead, he suggests a more nuanced approach, such as hybrid work models that combine remote and in-person work to leverage the benefits of both. This approach allows for flexibility while still providing opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and social interaction.

While Bersin's perspective challenges the conventional thinking around work arrangements, it invites businesses to critically evaluate the future of work. By considering the preferences and well-being of employees, embracing flexibility, and leveraging the advantages of remote work, organizations can adapt to the changing landscape and create a more resilient, productive, and engaging work environment.

Emotional Divorce in the Workplace and How It Affects Employee Engagement

A Key Engagement Strategy is to Utilize Hybrid Models Instead of Insisting on Outdated Ways of Working

As organizations navigate the post-pandemic era, it is crucial to weigh the potential drawbacks of a complete return to the workplace against the benefits of embracing new ways of working. By finding a balance that suits the needs of employees and the organization, we can chart a path toward a future of work that is both successful and fulfilling.

Hybrid models combine the best aspects of remote and in-office work, offering employees flexibility while still maintaining a sense of connectedness and collaboration with their colleagues. By embracing these innovative approaches to work, both employees and organizations can benefit, leading to sustained growth and success in an ever-changing world.

Are Senior Leaders Listening to Employee Engagement Surveys?

When employees feel valued, higher employee retention is a natural consequence. To drive employee engagement, direct supervisors and leadership teams must define it and understand what it looks like.

Building the company culture can inspire employees and promote business success. We must encourage managers to ensure that employees understand the company's values while still improving employee engagement.

Emotional Divorce in the Workplace and How It Affects Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement Research Can Improve the Work Environment

An engagement survey or pulse surveys are an invaluable resource for HR professionals to assess the overall satisfaction and engagement levels within an organization. By conducting regular engagement surveys and examining the outcomes, leaders can pinpoint areas requiring improvement and devise strategies to boost employee engagement.

Employee engagement software can facilitate information management and save time for both managers and survey participants. Some leaders may ask, why is employee engagement important? Taking the time to measure employee engagement is time well spent, and leaders who doubt may be losing talent to their competitors.

Customizable surveys can incorporate key performance indicators that align with the organization's objectives and values, offering insights into particular aspects needing attention. Questions such as "Are there sufficient professional development opportunities?" and "What are the primary reasons for employees leaving?" can provide HR professionals with crucial information to address concerns and enhance the work environment.

An Employee Engagement Survey is Meaningless Unless Leadership is Listening

Listening to employee feedback is equally important in creating better business outcomes and reducing turnover. It allows leaders to understand the needs, concerns, and aspirations of their workforce. By listening and reflecting upon employee feedback, leaders can identify and address issues that may be affecting employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

In particular, engagement surveys and employee feedback can help leaders in shaping effective career development programs and supporting the onboarding process for new hires. Through engagement surveys, leaders can gather feedback to assess the perceived availability of employment opportunities within the company.

A disengaged employee will look elsewhere, to the detriment of many companies and business entities, while an engaged employee will be loyal and ready to offer innovative ideas and solutions. Employee engagement initiatives should be part of your company's mission to ensure employees stay with you for years to come.

Emotional Divorce in the Workplace and How It Affects Employee Engagement

Human beings, unlike machines, need time to rest, reflect, learn, and grow. When people are overworked, their performance suffers.

Josh Bersin, HR Predictions for 2023

Moving Forward--Engagement Efforts and Maintaining Employee Engagement

As individuals, we can bridge the emotional gap by seeking collaboration, networking, and mentorship opportunities. Engaging in open and honest communication with colleagues, seeking emotional support from friends and family outside of work, and finding purpose in personal growth can also help restore that emotional connection.

Disengaged employees are not at peak performance, and they are likely not finding their work to be very fulfilling. Emotional divorce in the workplace affects both individuals and organizations. For individuals, it leads to decreased job satisfaction and overall well-being. For organizations, it results in reduced employee loyalty and innovation. 

We can create meaningful and fulfilling workplaces by prioritizing emotional connection and taking proactive steps toward fostering a culture of unity. Satisfied employees help build brand loyalty, and they drive organizational success.

It's time to rekindle the spark and rebuild those vital bonds so everyone feels valued, supported, and connected.

Emotional Divorce in the Workplace and How It Affects Employee Engagement

Unlocking Productivity and Happiness: Harnessing the i4 Neuroleader™ Model for Effective Leadership and Collaboration

The i4 Neuroleader™ Model is a revolutionary way to measure and increase productivity and happiness in the workplace. It allows practitioners to integrate leadership and well-being, giving them a head start on tomorrow's leaders. The i4 Neuroleader™ Assessment is a neurobiology-based tool that helps identify and measure the four critical competencies for successful leadership: integration, inspiration, imagination, and intuition. This assessment can help individuals understand their own social motivation, as well as how they collaborate with others.

By measuring collaboration with the i4 Neuroleader™ Assessment, individuals can gain insight into how they interact with their team members and colleagues. With this knowledge, they can make adjustments to better support each other in achieving success. We encourage everyone to take advantage of this powerful tool to become more effective leaders and create a healthier work environment for all.

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