Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Overcoming Disengagement

2 Feb, 2022

by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

In May 2021 I wrote a blog on “Strengthening Employee Engagement.”  Since then, companies have seen a swelling flood of disengagement in workplaces.  A Gallup study published in early 2022 has revealed this:

“For the first year in more than a decade, the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. declined in 2021. Just over one-third of employees (34%) were engaged, and 16% were actively disengaged in their work and workplace, based on a random sample of 57,022 full- and part-time employees throughout the year.”

Disengagement presents a serious threat to a company’s bottom line, to a company’s culture, and to society at large.

  • — When employees are disengaged, they’re more likely to lag in productivity, to promote dissatisfaction in their coworkers, and to quit.  In a famous study several years ago, Gallup concluded that “…an actively disengaged employee costs their organization $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary, or 34 percent. That means that a disgruntled or “checked out” person on staff making $60,000 a year costs their company $20,400 for that same year.”
  • — But disengagement doesn’t “just” rob the financial bottom line.  Disengagement also sucks the vitality out of a workplace.  It decouples employees’ work from their passion, and isolates their work from their core purpose in life.  In a real sense, disengagement robs workers of what makes them human.
  • — One of the outcomes of disengagement is that employees are quitting (see my blog post on the Great Resignation).  Alongside the rise in resignations, we’re seeing a rise in loneliness, substance abuse, violence and suicide.

Why is disengagement on the rise?  Several contributing factors can be cited.  The 2022 Gallup study noted the impact of physical isolation due to Covid; but also pointed out that companies with strong corporate cultures have remained vibrant.  As Jacob Morgan reported in his 2017 article in Harvard Business Review, companies that invest in employee experience outperform those that don’t. Perhaps more now than ever, what’s needed is a focus on freeing employees to express their hearts, and listening to them.

Unfortunately, in many corporate cultures, even today, there’s a perceived or real “gag order” on faith-oriented discussion in the workplace.  That constraint has the effect of fortifying perceived walls of separation.  It prevents many employees from truly “showing up” at work.  It discourages those who want to connect with one another on a deep level, and keeps them from building trust across faith traditions.

It’s high time that companies invite all their employees to openly apply their faith and beliefs to work.  We should encourage them to share the values, traditions and motivations that define their core identity and inform and inspire the way they work.

The diversity movement has much to say on topics like full engagement and welcoming people across the spectrum.  It’s about time the principles driving diversity and inclusion were embraced more broadly and applied to employees’ faith and belief in particular.

The good news is that faith and belief is being unleashed in more and more companies.  (See the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s REDI Index).  Where it is, we’ve seen warm, respectful, healing connection and mutual respect.  These companies are weaving a fabric of culture that strengthens friendships, improves the bottom line and makes the world a more civil place.

Let’s free our people to be more engaged at work.