Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Why Workers Disengage? Factors from "Head" or "Heart" to Be Tagged On?

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Why Workers Disengage? Factors from "Head" or "Heart" to Be Tagged On?

Article excerpt


Oil palm plantations are decisively situated in the various regions of Malaysia where the climatic conditions are appropriate for planting oil palm. One cannot compare the work environment of such plantations with normal office settings. The workers in those plantations are working in remote locations, totally cut off from the other part of the world. Majority workers are from Indonesia, Philippines like low income countries. The work environment is physically demanding and challenging to the workers due to many factors. An exploratory study has conducted on employee disengagement in the oil palm plantations in the Sabah region of Malaysia. The study has taken up employee disengagement factors due to the lack of interest among the local people to engage themselves in the oil palm plantations work and the plantation industry in Malaysia is facing an acute labor shortage to carry forwards the oil palm business. The study follows, field visits, interviews with the workers, focus group discussions and specifically Delphi. The findings supported to identify the 7 factors coming under the theme employee disengagement as Wage and Welfare, Work Environment, Lack of Safety and security, Poor Organizational Support, Rigid Rules and regulations, and Lack of individual motivation. The study paves better insight to lead this qualitative research in an organized quantitative research.

Keywords: employee engagement, disengagement, oil palm plantations, working condition

1. Introduction

Much research has come out in the field of employee engagement in industrial settings. Several models have come out to explain the nature and significance of employee engagement and disengagement in organizational setting due to various organizations and individual factors. These models and theories can be the base to determine and fix the variables that are closely related to any field research endeavor. While the issue here is that how far these models can be purely adopted considering the nature of field settings and organizational and individual factors. A study would be curious if those models and theories adaptability on the field settings like plantations. To explore the variables suitability to conduct a research on employee disengagement in oil palm plantations, where majority workers are working in a field setting in remote habitat an exploratory study was conducted. The study once again clarifies the variables suitability, by segregating each variable and further subjects them under the field setting for expert observation in order to ascertain which one are more relevant in the plantation environment and which one are irrelevant. The study has come up with a model which is suitable to analyze the factors contributing to employee disengagement in oil palm plantations in general and Sabah region of Malaysia in general.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Employee Disengagement

Kahn (1990) gave following definition for personal disengagement: "Personal disengagement... is the simultaneous withdrawal and defense of a person's preferred self in behaviors that promote a lack of connections, physical, cognitive, and emotional absence, and passive, incomplete role performance." Furthermore, Kahn discussed problems of personal disengagement, which lead to "the uncoupling of slaves from work roles" (Kahn (1990). Depending on the researcher, such unemployment of the self in one's role can be called "robotic or apathetic" behavior, "burn out", "apathetic or detached" behavior, or "effortless" (Kahn (1990).

2.2 Employee Engagement and Disengagement

The Gallup Organization in its survey (Gallup 2006) used the following characteristics of employees:

* Engaged workers, who involve their work with desire and eagerness and who are conscious of being highly associated with their firm. They provide emotional and physical input to the organization's performance and growth, and facilitate forward movement.

* Disengaged workers who are in fact "checked out". …

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