Dr. Hongmei Shen and Dr. Chunbo Ren sought to define and establish disengagement as a unique concept. They also identified which factors drove disengagement and explored the behaviors through which it manifests. The study was motivated by the increasing global prevalence of employee disengagement and its detrimental effects on both organizational performance and culture.

To better understand what disengagement looks like and how to define it, the researchers conducted 24 in-depth interviews with employees working in China.

Key Findings                                                          
— The researchers found that disengagement behaviors included an indifferent attitude to work, pulling away from being involved with colleagues and work events and a “who cares” approach to high priority tasks.
— While disengagement and burnout are often perceived as similar, this study revealed a distinction between the two. Burnout is not characterized by a lack of willingness to contribute, but rather a state of being overwhelmed that restricts one’s capacity. On the other hand, disengagement involves employees who possess the necessary capacity and bandwidth but lack the motivation to actively engage.
— Burnout can be understood as a temporary state that, if not remedied, can eventually lead to the more long-lasting state of disengagement.

Implications for Practice
Employers should recognize the significance of an employee’s alignment with both their role and the organizational culture as crucial factors influencing disengagement. A mismatch in these areas often serves as a predictor of disengaging behaviors. Additionally, employers should be mindful that they can adopt mitigating measures to decrease disengagement. This can be achieved through practices like actively listening to employees and actively involving them in the decision-making process of the organization.

Click here to understand more about what disengagement looks like, how to recognize it, and how to prevent it.

Shen, H., & Ren, C. (2023). Reconceptualizing employee disengagement as both attitudinal and behavioral: Narratives from China. Public Relations Review, 49(2), 102318.                                              

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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