Employee Un-Engagement: A Global Phenomenon that Can Be Fixed

Michael Hyter is the newest interview in this Recovering Leader series dedicated to exploring what leaders can expect of their would-be followers as opportunities open up in the nascent recovery. Mike is president of Novations, a Boston-based consulting firm focused on developing effective leaders throughout a globally diverse workforce.

Do your employees really believe that their leadership truly values them?  How can a leader tell?  What will flagging loyalty mean in the coming upswing?  What can a leader at risk of losing followers do to change things for the better?


These are some of the questions that I posed to Michael Hyter, president of Novations, a leadership development firm based in Boston, MA with a worldwide practice in engaging the growth needs of the world’s diverse workforces. He is also co-author of The Power of Inclusion , an excellent book on that same topic. Mike was just putting down his bags from a six-week swing through Asia, Australia, Africa and the UK when I cornered him.  The purpose of his trip: to see how the five generations in workplaces around the globe are feeling these days about where they work, and about how their purported leaders are treating them.

What did he find? Mike reeled off examples of engagement gaps at every port of call: “A bank in Singapore struggling to meet the need for strong talent in its succession pipeline; a biotech company in Tokyo losing members of Gen Y; a bank call center in Hong Kong frustrated by very high employee turnover rates, especially among young professionals; a consumer products company in Australia desperate to develop managerial skill in engaging and inspiring its workforce; a telecomm company in South Africa keen to improve promotion rates for blacks – but falling short.”

His major finding: trust is a global problem.  Trust issues may be magnified by the recession in the parts of the globe where recession exists, but low trust is a universal, and affects all generations (Gen Y especially).  

The answer, says Mike, is for the leader to stop focusing on his or her own selfish needs (“work more with less!”), and to genuinely put himself or herself  in the shoes of others (“where is this going – for us and me?”).  Anything short of that disconnects leader from follower.  

Great advice, but how does a leader know where he or she stands?  Do you have a loyalty problem or not? Surely your employees and teammates know how tough it has been.   “If you truly can be honest with yourself, it is not hard to know if you have trust,” Mike chuckles. “The acid test: Do you ever hear anything negative from your people? If not, you have a trust issue.  If everything you hear is positive or neutral (at worst), you know that your people don’t dare tell you the hard news.  You have not done enough to build a bank account of trust, something that people feel they can draw against.  When people only bring you 50 percent of the news, they are also only bringing you 50 percent of their best efforts.”

So, what’s the antidote?  Can anything be done with the existing cast of characters, or does the leader need to clean house and start fresh?


“Leaders create change,” says Mike.  “They can change this situation too, if they are really willing to work at stemming the tide of employee turnover before it starts.”  He outlines four concrete steps.

Step 1: Leaders and Managers, Know Thyself: It is said that organizations don’t build trust, managers do. But leaders tend to rate themselves as more trustworthy and trusted than those around them. Leaders need to find out what others really think by whatever means available: multi-rater assessments, in-depth conversations, and other feedback mechanisms.  An honest picture of strengths and weaknesses is the start of a game plan for self-development around trust.

Step 2: Match behavior to intentions: This may sound strange, but trust can be deconstructed into discreet elements:  caring, consideration, credibility and consistency.  Leaders can learn how to match their good intentions to observable behaviors.

Step 3: Help employees see themselves in the organization’s future: Employees need a clear vision of where their organization is going and how they fit into that vision. They need to know how they can leverage their talents and passions to fulfill organizational needs today and in the future. This requires broad enterprise leadership and communication as well as frequent and genuine one-on-one conversations with employees.

Step 4: Make a commitment to employee development-for all employees: Star systems are the enemy of loyalty and engagement, except among the chosen few.  Leaders who create a workplace in which all employees feel valued and respected for their opinions and contributions every day create much more loyalty and commitment where it counts (which is: everywhere).  In today’s flatter, leaner organizations, effective leaders develop others through stretch assignments, cross functional projects, team leadership roles and other on-the-job tasks that help them showcase new skills.