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.