Disengaged or disenchanted at work? Join the crowd.

Here’s a depressing statistic to make your weekend.  According to Gallup research of the American workplace (25 million respondents to date):

“Of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work, so we can assume they have a great boss.

At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million (20%) employees who are actively disengaged. These employees, who have bosses from hell that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent.

The other 50 million (50%) American workers are not engaged. They’re just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers.”

Jim Clifton, CEO Gallup

Jim Clifton, CEO Gallup

Gallup’s CEO, Jim Clifton, goes on to say:

” ….the top 25% of teams — the best managed — versus the bottom 25% in any workplace — the worst managed — have nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects. What’s more, teams in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs. So having too few engaged employees means our workplaces are less safe, employees have more quality defects, and disengagement — which results from terrible managers — is driving up the country’s healthcare costs.”

Gulp.  Does this ring true for you in your workplace?  It’s no better outside the US, by the way:  globally only 13% of employees are actively engaged.

I certainly can relate to it.  The more people I meet on leadership training programmes, the more the pattern of attitudes seems to be hardening towards disenchantment, frustration, lethargy, amnesia and boredom.  I thought maybe my perception of this was a function of me getting older and more cynical, but this report has got me thinking again.

The employee engagement pill.  Not to be taken without supervision.

The employee engagement pill. Not to be taken without supervision.

If this research is correct (and personally I would trust Gallup to have validated it pretty well), this presents a massive opportunity.  Sorry if once again I am sounding like a deluded optimist.

If we could create a magic “employee engagement pill”, the results would spill through to the bottom line within minutes.

What would the symptoms be that this pill is working?  Here are a few of the most obvious things we’d notice:

  1. People would understand where their contribution fits and how it makes a difference
  2. They would work towards meaningful and motivating objectives which they had been involved in shaping
  3. They would have regular and authentic dialogue with their manager, on topics other than next week’s to do list
  4. There would be room on meeting agendas for human connections to be made
  5. Taking time to think would be a behaviour which was actively encouraged
  6. Managers would see coaching as a critical part of their role
  7. More questions would be asked, in particular “why?”
  8. Openness and honesty levels would increase, with consequent growth in Trust
  9. Failure would be seen as a part of the innovation process, and become an acceptable norm
  10. Arse-covering email would evaporate.

I could go on.  My list reads like a diagnosis of a dysfunctional work culture, in which you’d expect employee engagement levels to be low.  No wonder so many people that I meet are so exhausted.  They are coasting at best, trying to find the easiest path to the end of the week.

So where’s the massive opportunity I mentioned?  In a change of behaviour of course.  There can’t be too many people over the age of 30 who don’t know the theory of how to manage and engage their staff.  What they may be missing is the belief that it’s ok to do it.  They might need to be given permission in some cultures, and in others they may need to see others applying it before they are willing to take the risk.

As ever, my call to action is to individuals like you to take the lead.  What could possibly go wrong?

My thanks to Greg Giuliano for alerting me to the research.  Greg works with leaders to help them unlock their potential, and feels as passionately about this as I do.   Here’s his take on the research.

How would you assess your engagement level?  What would it take to increase it?  Please share your view, particularly if you feel this research is wide of the mark.


About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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10 Responses to Disengaged or disenchanted at work? Join the crowd.

  1. This is very interesting, I would love to see this poll compared to the employees who are active or aware of the current political climate of our country AND the breakdown per wage scale. I believe this two factors alone would be enlightening. Having said that it does not answer the question posed of “how to engage employees” I have an interesting and forward thinking report from a California Energy Business who is in the process of ‘redefining’ how they interact and deal with their employees. A quite lengthy process I might add. The question came up about the lack of hiring prospects for those employees over 50. This brings a whole different set of questions with it. I think this is a great topic to bring up especially for the outlook of the coming years, as India/China emerge bringing a large number of skilled workers to the markets estimated by the year 2020 when they will own the lions share of the global wealth – this results in also in the largest pool of employable persons. By sheer numbers their 1% of their best workers would beat out and take jobs of the top 20% of US workers. India population 1.237 Billion, China 1.351Billion (combined 2.588Billion 1% =250,880,000.) V. US having 313.9 Million(1% = 3,139,000.) So rounding those numbers is 3 Million in americas top 1% of the work force will be competing against 250 million. Almost one-hundred to one. And not to say this in a racial way but merely the facts are, many from either country would gladly take a top paying job for probably 1/2 of what is currently being paid. So it’s very easy to see why 20% of all americans will be self employed which paves the way for micro economics of communities and their goals to become self-sustaining. Which also brings me back to our employable work force, keeping them engaged.
    Our Management Team at an Indian Casino had I think 8 top Department Managers each of which would have either assistants and/or Shift Supervisors who then of course had x number of employees to supervise and train. For a time the moral of the work environment started dropping, resulting in mermerings being heard. We adopted a policy of holding a meeting once a month where all employees got to vote on who they would send to represent them at this meetings. At this meeting we addressed any of their questions and concerns and also conducted a condensed version of an upper management meeting at the same time which allowed for the representative to get a short glimpse of issues we dealt with so they could also see their management team was ‘indeed working’ and the representative could readily see and understand if there were concerns of theirs which had been delayed or addressed and not implemented.

    Our Moral received an immediate boost, employee’s were ecstatic they were not only welcomed to a meeting, but that upper management (ceo, cfo, etc) was so concerned for their well being/happiness at their job they would go to all this trouble for them. Such a simple thing, 20 minutes-40 minutes once a month with one elected representative.
    90-110 happy employees.
    Most Common Revelation: What we heard more than anything was “wow, I had no idea you folks had to deal with all that kind of stuff.” which imho was the best result.
    Giving a person a glimpse of walking a mile in another’s shoes which incidentally worked both ways.
    In hospitality there was an old saying.. If you want to really know what people think of your restaurant, go wash dishes on a few shifts, and you will know exactly what they think of your offerings without ever-so-polite-and-uninformational “it was fine”

    To Ben Dehaldevang: Sorry this got so long, and if you feel it too long for your readers, feel free to cut out anything.
    If you’d like that report I spoke of, you can just leave me a message on my blog. Great, Great Topic! Super relevant to our coming times!


  2. John Smith says:

    Reblogged this on THE STRATEGIC LEARNER and commented:
    This IS depressing … what say we work on changing the ratio?


  3. Assessment level is better than average. (Of course, we all think we are better than average). I believe that focusing on purpose/meaning of the mission coupled with helping individual employee improve their skills is critical to an engagement work force. Randy Conley nails it in his post.



    • Thanks for the link to Randy’s article, David. as you say, he nails it.

      Got me wondering whether the Gallup survey is in fact unintentionally measuring “happiness”, in which case possibly we might be a little less concerned?


  4. Mikey says:

    Hi Mike
    I think it can no longer be left to corporations and their employees to work out the solutions…..how about if the government of the day reversed the egregious bit of employment law that states a worker cannot benefit from unfair dismissal until two years have passed.This effectively means all new employees have zero security for this period…why would you engage with an employer for this period unless you really needed the money! Even if you survive the two year period, why engage with the senior management who are probably on a wage 15 to 20 times your own?
    Roll on the revolution!
    Comrade Collings


    • I hear you, Mikey! Interesting angle – how employment law could be modified to encourage more balanced relationships with new employees. As per the previous comment, not long before we are all self employed, the way things are going!


  5. Hi Michael, it’s good research and something I’ve seen before. If you couple the forecast that 50% of the working population in the US is expected to be self employed by 2020, the actions of people speak loudly to their overall detachment with corporate life…perhaps we are starting to witness the end of the large corporate as we know it!


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