Disengaged employees could help the competition

Good practices around recognition and reward, culture management and talent management can make a big difference to the innovativeness of employees. There are many examples of how organisations fail to recognise and reward innovative employees.

Consider these two historical lost opportunities.

WALT DISNEY was fired from his position as an illustrator at the Kansas City Star – the reason given was that Disney “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

So, essentially, Disney was fired from his job at the paper for … wait for it … lack of creativity! Clearly, his bosses at the newspaper failed to inspire him, and that lack of engagement with his work led to lackluster performance. Ironically, years later — after Disney had become wealthy and successful from his innovative ideas — The Walt Disney Company bought ABC, which owned The Kansas City Star!

NIKOLA TESLA was a brilliant inventor, and the real genius behind harnessing the power of electricity. He worked for Thomas Edison, but resigned and took a job digging ditches! Edison had promised Telsa a bonus if he was successful on a project. After Tesla’s completion of the project, Edison reneged and Tesla resigned.

After parting ways with Edison, Tesla went on to discover: FM radio, remote control, robots, spark plugs, fluorescent lights, laser beams, wireless communications, Tesla’s turbines, vertical take-off aircraft and the concepts behind the electric car.

Malcontent employees are probably stabbing businesses in the back every day. The good news is that many disengaged employees are really just potentially engaged employees whose passion for their work has been stifled or curdled. Win those folks’ hearts and minds, and you can turn potential disaster into measurable success in a business .

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Comment by Tim Malone on July 5, 2012 at 11:16

Thanks for the comments Johan and Siyabonga. I was so disengaged in one job, I got fired - best thing that ever happened to me!

Comment by Siyabonga Dilimeni on July 5, 2012 at 10:52

Great article Tim..

I am in full agreement and actually laughing as I am reading through. I have first hand experience of that situation, with my previous employer i found myself in many situations where I would be pulled into project initiation and planning, up to the contract negotiation phase (flying in & out of Jhb and Cpt, boardroom meeting etc).....     and suddently it would just STOP THERE!

All of sudden all communication is via the Manager, sometimes only to findout that the projects has long been awarded..! sometimes only to hear from staff members that there's a meeting in progress in the boardroom and as I am leaving the office in my CITI GOLF... there's all the Range Rovers, Mercedes Benz ML and BMW's parked outside for the very same deal that I initiated!

Comment by Johan Poolman on July 5, 2012 at 10:28

Tim, an excellent article. I cannot agree with you more – employee engagement can have a major impact on a company’s success or failure, and could arguably be the most important competitive advantage that a company can have. People in essence want to work, want to be productive, want to contribute to something worthwhile, but they are more often than not inhibited or undermined in this by archaic management approaches and constrictive work environments that are not conducive to being engaged. And disengaged employees are less productive, less customer focused, less committed and ultimately less loyal to the company – the most talented will leave for greener pastures. 

Comment by Tim Malone on July 5, 2012 at 9:02

Another interesting perspective on employee engagement from David Grossman

Employees come to work for different reasons, have different goals, and are motivated by different things. How well do you know your employees? 

If employees could collectively tell you what they want and need, here’s what they might say:

“I am your employee...

“I’ve been told I am part of the human capital equation and very important here. So, if I may, I have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share.

“It’s about why I chose this organization…and what I expect from my employment experience. I need to feel valued, to be treated with respect and to know my supervisor cares about me. I need regular information from my manager, but still need to hear from senior leaders on broader company issues.

“I need to know how I will benefit when I produce good results. And I need regular, tangible, specific, constructive feedback about my work.

“So you see, if I am really a part of your human capital, I need to feel like the ‘human’ aspect is important to you, not like I am a commodity.

“When I can do good work and get back from you what I need, I couldn’t be happier. I wake up in the morning eager to do a good job. During those times I feel fulfilled and happy with my work life. I’m ready to go ‘above and beyond’ when you need me to.

“But, if you ask more and more from me without acknowledging what I am contributing, telling me I have value or telling me how I’m doing, that makes me frustrated and leaves me unfulfilled. I start to question whether coming here was the right thing to do.

“If you don’t meet my expectations, how can you expect me to meet yours, especially if you don’t make your expectations clear?

“And if I have expectations that I don’t share with you, as my employer, how can you know what motivates, energizes, and supports me?

“It’s pretty much about communication; between us; between my supervisor and me; and between my fellow employees and me.

“And good communication is tough. I am bombarded by messages and communications clutter, and appreciate having a choice of media. I am willing to take the initiative to find out some of the information I need. But I may not realize the responsibility I have to seek out information. And I’m not sure you realize how much I need to feel included in the process.

“I will be more engaged if I have had a chance to provide input up front, especially in decisions that affect my job. My behavior is a consequence of how I’m treated and rewarded.

“When you get my attention, I am listening to what you say…more importantly I am watching what you do!…I am your employee!”

Comment by Tim Malone on July 4, 2012 at 15:28

The full video has been posted. Alternatively go to

Comment by Tim Malone on July 4, 2012 at 15:24

Hi Ronald,

Thank you, though I have to admit that the examples were pointed out by a colleague of mine. As Ian rightly points out, the "my way or the highway" mentality is still, to my dismay, very common practice. What amazes me is that many managers can't seem to understand why their employees have so little interest in their work.

I recommend a book by Professor Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School called "The Progress Principle". I've post a short video clip of Prof Amabile's TED talk and a link to the full talk.


Comment by Ronald Simons on July 4, 2012 at 14:47

Hi Tim

Thank you for your inspirational article. You could not have chosen two better examples to illustrate your point. I happen to be in the teaching business and daily i also witness how fellow employees are losing interest in what ought to be a passion ,due to  , as you call it "employer non engagement" Nevertheless , this is the kind of content that when posted i hope will make employers as, " what can i do differently to get the best out of my employees".

Once again well done for hitting the mark , to point out how a fresh perspective can bring about great change in employees all over south africa.

Comment by Ian Webster on July 4, 2012 at 11:55


Unfortunatley, "my way or the highway" mentality abounds. Engagement is just so time consuming.  And what does the employee know anyway?  There are plenty of good people out there.

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