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From Where We Sit

Disengagement at work

Anton Ng

It has been a while since I last went out on a date with any of my daughters. My wife and I have committed to taking our kids out on dates, but circumstances have always hindered us from doing so consistently. A couple of weeks ago, I was finally out on a date with my second daughter, doing the things she likes to do, eating the food she wants to eat and, most importantly, neither allowing me nor the past choices of her older sister to influence her.

Prior to our date, I got wind of her response when she was asked during one of her summer activities on what makes her sad. Her answer was “If somebody breaks my heart into a million pieces.” During our date, I asked her who causes her heart to break into a million pieces. Her response broke my heart into a billion pieces: apparently, it was me and her mom every time we reprimand her.

I felt wounded; my mind was confused. My initial reaction was to question what my daughter was feeling. All along, I thought and believed that I explained myself well to her; that every time I reprimand her, my reasons and intentions and, ultimately, my love for her were very clear. Thus, I expected my four-year old to fully understand; that her heart should not have broken into a million pieces, because of me. I realized, however, that I should not simply disregard her feelings; that although I thought I might have explained to her already, I may still be at fault. In this relationship, I am the adult and the mature one. At the end of the day, she is my daughter. I cannot let what I heard and what I felt make me disengage with her. If it leads to that, this relationship would surely not develop any further.

This type of conversation and relational dynamics is not entirely limited within familial bonds. Albeit in far less cheesy and dramatic words (meaning no breaking-into-a-million-pieces kind of narrative), we could often experience a similar back and forth with our own people in the workplace. As leaders in our respective organizations, we often hear complaints. We hear about hurt feelings caused by us, as well as faults and shortcomings thrown our way. We will feel wounded; our minds will be confused. We thought we have performed our responsibilities in the best way we can, and yet this? As a response, intentional or not, we sometimes disengage with our people. We let our pride take over and, thus, prevent ourselves from further engaging.

There are a number of articles that we can read on how to keep our people engaged or how to prevent them from being disengaged. Some are heavily anchored on organizational culture or leadership traits, while some are rooted on something more existential, such as the alignment of the organization and personal values. One thing certain, however, is that leaders cannot be the first to disengage. Leaders cannot afford to be the one to stop the conversations from happening.

Engagement requires time and effort; most leaders would often complain they are running out of both. No matter how difficult it may be, I believe it is in our best interest to keep the conversations going. Otherwise, our people, even our most loyal ones, will eventually check out.

We cannot hide behind the fact that we have already discussed certain things with them or that we have explained the basis of our decisions. Neither can we just say that we are all adults and professionals and that everyone should just lick their wounds and move on. Doing so would only further alienate people, which could eventually lead to disengagement.

They say hate is not the opposite of love, rather, it is indifference: the point of not caring. It is as if one does not exist. Hate at least comes from a strong feeling of emotion towards the object of hatred. Indifference, on the other hand, has no emotions attached to it. It does not want to know what you are doing; it does not even want to know if you are even there. Once a person reaches this stage towards an organization or its leaders, that person is no longer working for anybody but themselves—a losing and dangerous scenario for any leader if you ask me.

Losing one’s enthusiasm, energy, and excitement for work is both a function of how one reacts to situations and how the other party, the organization or its leaders, respond to the situation. Both should also be responsible for bringing those back. Both have a stake in the relationship. Both need to do something to keep the relationship healthy.

Despite my initial reaction to what my daughter said, it dawned on me that, instead of becoming annoyed at how she felt, I should make sure that I keep the conversation going. I could not simply allow my pride to take over and negatively impact how I engage with her moving forward. You might say “Of course! That is what you will do because she is your daughter.” But, knowing us, we sometimes let our pride, our overindulging self-love, view ourselves as far more important than others, even to those whom we swear we love. What more to those outside our so-called “loved ones”?

We often accuse our people of no longer engaging. Sometimes, maybe we are the ones who started disengaging.

Anton Ng is a Partner, Audit & Assurance of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 850 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to or For more information, visit our Website:


As published in The Manila Times, dated 12 June 2019