Corporate executives always talk about employee engagement as a company objective. So they introduce things like casual Fridays, telecommuting and the occasional snack. While these things help, there are much more critical factors that impact employee engagement.
The glossy HR-driven actions previously mentioned are what typically create headlines, yet it's really the seemingly mundane things that make all the difference.
Want to create an apathetic employee? It's easy - treat them unfairly and diminish their value to the company. These kinds of actions will always outweigh the typical token gestures bestowed upon staff by corporate executives.
Companies can't triple someone's workload with zero compensation, cut their team in half and expect a few bagels to make up for it. The utility of most employee 'perks' is very limited in nature. Meanwhile, the grueling onslaught of a tripled workload never stops.
Remember, with any corporate action the math is almost always in the employer's favour. The more employees realize this the more they disengage.
When employees are fighting a losing battle to maintain a work-life balance, without compensation for a growing workload, the only way to mathematically come out ahead is to let things slide.
For example, if a baker at a cake factory (if there is such a thing) is expected to make 3 times more cakes for the same fixed salary he is either going to work more hours (a losing proposition for the baker) or cut corners on the cakes.
For a baker that takes pride in his work, producing sub-par cakes feels unsatisfactory. Yet, the rational baker knows only he loses if he maintains quality. Some will put in the extra effort, but a significant portion will - after first putting up a fight - resign to their fate. To overcome his cognitive dissonance, the proud baker must learn to stop caring and become apathetic. In psychology circles, this is called learned helplessness.
Going a step further, if the cake factory REALLY wants to create disengaged bakers, it should publicly declare that the new chocolate concoction its baker has spent so much time developing - as requested by senior leaders at the cake factory - is something no customers want.
It's amazing how clueless some 'professional leaders' are about how their words and actions impact staff, and therefore their company's ability to deliver. While stabbing their staff in the gut with one hand, many executives expect their staff to kiss the other. Some will, but many won't. And most of those who refuse will do so quietly, creating the most toxic of environments, replacing the grease that turns the wheels of commerce with molasses.
Some employees in the baker's situation might look for another job. Others will dig in their heels to milk the situation for what they can. Either way, they stop caring, stop trying and stop going the extra mile.