3 Psychological Reasons Employees Disengage from Work

And How Can HR Help?

Corporate Therapy is YoBusiness
Employee DisEngagement

The pandemic has brought a lot of challenges to HR specialists in every business around the globe. One of them being employee disengagement from work. Everybody has heard this: out of sight, out of mind. But the real questions are why employees disengage and how can HR change that. The 3 most hidden psychological reasons behind employee disengagement are fear or failure, lack of trust, and fear of success. The psychology and some ideas on how HR can fix that are laid out below.

  1. Fear of Failure

What’s in the black box? Employees (and all humans in general) tend to have doubts about their abilities to perform. Problem is, not a lot (HR) directors realize that it is OK to feel that way. So, now that you do know, how can you help employees engage at work even when (not if) they fear failure?

How to fix it? Everybody “knows” it is OK to fail. In fact, the concept of failing in business has become so popular these days that it is a mystery why employees still fear it. And yet, according to Statista, almost half of them do. And the reason is very simple: workplace promises are not aligned with workplace actions. Just because an HR proudly sent out an email praising those who fail, does not mean employees will stop fearing failure anytime soon. The real fix here is to get all other departments involved in delivering on the concept of failure: sales, marketing, business development. However, the one thing to bear in mind is that employees are not stupid and they understand that they are expected to balance failures with successes. So, if you truly want to minimize employee disengagement due to fear of failure, you need to be clear on the success-to-failure ratio. Low or high? You decide, but remember: the more failures, the more successes!

  1. Lack of Trust

What’s in the black box? Employees will sooner rather than later disengage from work when they feel a lack of trust. The emphasis in the previous sentence is on the word feel. It does not have to be the truth from the HR standpoint. But, if it’s true for the employee, then, it’s the only truth there is. This concept is called clashing realities in psychology and it is hard to accept in the workplace, especially by the superiors. Yet, it is absolutely vital to embrace this idea if you are dealing with people in business. So, if an employee feels a lack of trust, then, it is the reality an HR specialist must deal with, even if they don’t agree with that. The answers to how are below.

How to fix it? First of all, HR’s need to let the employees know that they accept employee lack of trust. Having made employees comfortable, HR’s can now ask the golden why? question. Is the cause for lack of trust lack of communication? Lack of feedback? Rumor? Thing is, once HR specialists acknowledge that there is a problem, it usually turns out to be something they can solve easily. It is only impossible to solve, if you refuse to see it.

  1. Fear of Success

What’s in the black box? Reading the headline, you probably think we are crazy to say that. And yet, studies show that it is possible that ⅓ of all employees show signs of fear of success, which leads to disengagement from work, to say the least. Why? The answer is very simple and boils down to colleague rivalry.

How to fix it? The number 1 psychological reason behind fear of success is employee unwillingness to spoil relationships with their colleagues. So, in order to address fear of success in employees, HR’s need to deal with employee relationships instead. A good way around is shared rewards within a bigger employee unit. Somebody does a great job at selling? Reward the sales department! Head of sales department does a good job? Reward all heads of departments, not just sales! Treat employee rewards this way, and you will minimize chances for rivalry. If you manage to demonstrate that success does not mean spoiled relationships with the colleagues, you will have solved the No. 1 reason behind employee fear of success.


Dealing with employees (and people in general) is not an easy job. It requires a lot of psychological insight and professional flexibility. To put it simply, if you want to solve employee problems, you need to identify the real reasons behind those problems. It is simple, not easy.