University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Confessions of an Entrepreneur: Why Employees Aren’t as Engaged as You Want Them to Be

Unmotivated employees

July 22, 2020 | By Mark Zweig

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You talk with as many business owners as I have over the last 40 years and you will hear them quite often speak disparagingly about their employees and how engaged and committed they are.

Sometimes, they focus their negativity on one group (always younger) — such as Millennials or Gen-Z.

It’s easy to bash your employees.

If this sounds like you, perhaps you need to look in the mirror. You are, for the most part, the one to blame — not your people — for the situation you find yourself in. You are probably treating most, if not all, of your employees in such a way that you shouldn’t expect anything different from them.

Here are some of the big reasons your employees aren’t as engaged, motivated and committed as you would like them to be:

  1. You don’t talk to them enough.
  2. Some business owners still operate with the antiquated notion that you can’t be friends with your employees. Therefore, they don’t talk with them enough out of fear the employees will start thinking they are “friends" and take advantage of them. This is bad thinking.

    Employees will always care more and perform better when they think their boss actually cares about them. Showing that care will help your employees care about you. It’s a normal human reaction.

  3. You have created an “us against them” culture in your company.
  4. The view that all employees other than management are viewed as a necessary evil and everyone is replaceable will lead to this kind of a culture. It’s not healthy.

    When the employees feel oppressed and expendable, you aren’t going to get the best out of them.

  5. You don’t involve them in your business planning.
  6. Maybe your people aren’t engaged because you haven’t engaged with them in the enterprise? That takes hearing what their thoughts are and letting them give input to the mission, strategies, goals and action items that are part and parcel of the business planning process.

    Being part of the business planning effort will help them feel more connected to the business and what you are trying to accomplish.

  7. You don’t have a meaningful mission or vision.
  8. If you want people to be engaged, you have to have a reason for existence and a primary goal beyond just making a profit to enrich yourself. If that is what your employees think is your primary mission it will be hard to keep them motivated and engaged and enthusiastic about the company and their jobs.

    People want to work for a business that stands for something and is doing some kind of good for society or a segment of it. Your job is to articulate just what that is and make it a reality. To the extent you can create a “purpose-driven” organization will determine how engaged your employees really are.

  9. You don’t share financial information with them.
  10. It’s crazy but most small business owners do not tell their employees how the business is doing and don’t provide them with any specific numbers showing the financial performance of the enterprise. Studies show that when you don’t give your employees any financial information, they assume you are making much, much more money than you actually do from the business.

    If employees think you are rolling in dough is it any wonder they are upset and demotivated? And if they don’t see what is working and what isn’t, how can you expect them to be working to solve your problems?

    It’s completely unrealistic to think that.

  11. You don’t commit to sharing a portion of the profits.
  12. Along with not sharing the numbers, most small business owners don’t share profits with their workers either. The bottom line is there are absolutely no incentives that encourage people to do anything more beyond the least they have to to keep their jobs.

    Why be engaged in your job? No payoff for doing so.

  13. There are no consequences for those who aren’t engaged.
  14. I think this is the case because so many business owners know deep down that they aren’t the best employers. While most small business owners don’t show any real care for their people, they also know they don’t want to have to replace anyone unless the employee’s behavior is so egregious they have absolutely no choice.

    No rewards and no sanctions. Not the way to motivate and engage your employees with the company!

  15. You aren’t as engaged as you should be.
  16. Maybe you have lost interest in your business and have stopped caring as much as you should? How will any employee be engaged with their work and company if the owners of the enterprise aren’t engaged and committed themselves?

    They won’t be. It’s unrealistic. Owners have to set the example.

    So how do you fare on these eight points? Are you reaping what you are sowing in terms of employee motivation, engagement and commitment? If so, try changing your evil ways and let me know in a year or so how it worked for you.

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Mark ZweigMark Zweig – a leading expert in management and business for the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental industry – is president of Mark Zweig, Inc., which has been named to the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies; chairman and founder of Zweig Group – named to the Inc. list three times – and entrepreneur-in-residence teaching entrepreneurship at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.