Employee Disengagement

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Gallup’s employee engagement statistics are startling. Only a third of the American workforce feel connected to and are passionate about their organization. The rest feel unsupported and undervalued. That’s a large majority. The answer is for organizations to challenge people, offer opportunities to apply their strengths, and recognize their contributions. We see the difference this makes. It’s a cornerstone of the Integral Strategy approach.

The Gallup Engagement Survey

Gallup Inc., the American polling company, conducts surveys worldwide. One of its most noted polls is the Employee Engagement Survey called the Q12 – a tested set of 12 questions used to measure employee satisfaction. Gallup has administered the survey for more than 35 years. Results are published annually. A report linking employee engagement to organizational outcomes is published every three years. The company has studied workplaces in more than 140 countries.

The Q12 is proprietary. It includes the following questions (the ratio of American workers who strongly agreed is shown in parentheses):

  • Do you know what is expected of you at work? (6 in 10)
  • Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right? (3 in 10)
  • Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? (4 in 10)
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work? (3 in 10)
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person? (4 in 10)
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development? (3 in 10)
  • Do your opinions seem to count? (3 in 10)
  • Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important? (4 in 10)
  • Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work? (3 in 10)
  • Do you have a best friend at work? (2 in 10)
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress? (3 in 10)
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow? (4 in 10)

Based on their responses on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), employees are placed in one of the following three groups:

  • Engaged Employees who “work with passion and feel a profound connection their company.”
  • Not-Engaged Employees who “are sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy or passion – into their work.”
  • Actively Disengaged Employees who “aren’t just unhappy at work, they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.”

The latest Gallup survey, published in February 2017, showed that in the United States engaged, not-engaged, and actively disengaged employees represented 33%, 51%, and 16% of the workforce, respectively. More than half of American workers are contemplating making a change or are actively looking for a new job. The survey results have been similar since 2000, fluctuating by only a few percentage points from year to year.

Disengagement from the Top Down

The results are similar for managers. Gallup’s State of the American Manager report published in 2015 found that 65% of managers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged. The report described a cascade where “employees’ engagement is directly influenced by their managers’ engagement — whose engagement is directly influenced by their managers’ engagement.” It’s engagement or disengagement from the top, all the way down.

Only four in 10 managers strongly agreed with the statement “This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.” One in three strongly agreed that “There is someone at work who encourages my development.” The report said 82% of managers lack the skills they need for their jobs. Female managers are better at engaging employees. They have engagement rates of 35% and 29% for female and male employees, respectively, while the corresponding rates for male managers were 31% and 25%.

Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace report, published in 2017, confirms a deep disconnect between employees and managers:

  • Only 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization
  • Only 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future
  • Only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization

Costs and Benefits

Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the American economy $483 billion to $605 billion in lost productivity every year. Some firms are demonstrably different. Workplaces in the top quartile, Gallup says, have 40% less absenteeism, 24% less turnover, 70% fewer safety incidents, 40% fewer quality defects, 17% higher productivity, and 21% increased profitability. Publicly traded recipients of Gallup’s Great Workplace Award experienced 115% growth in earnings per share between 2011-2013 and 2014-2015, while competitors experienced 27% growth in the same period.

There is a great loss of human potential. “The majority of U.S. employees,” Gallup says, “show up at their job every day without the guidance, incentives and support needed to perform at their best.” Gallup says companies need to:

  • challenge employees in positive ways
  • align their capabilities with long-term goals and aspirations
  • create learning opportunities
  • ask employees how they are applying what they are learning
  • encourage them to take advantage of opportunities to enhance their talents

Employees who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged.

Engagement and Teamwork

Gallup found employees in highly-matrixed organizations are more than twice as likely as those in slightly-matrixed organizations to agree strongly that being on different teams helps them collaborate more effectively and do their best work. Highly-matrixed employees work on multiple teams every day with different people who report to different managers. Highly-matrixed employees also feel more supported in the workplace. Compared with non-matrixed employees, Gallup says, they are:

  • 58% more likely to agree strongly that their opinions at work count
  • 40% more likely to agree strongly that their coworkers are committed to quality
  • 39% more likely to agree strongly that someone at work encourages their development
  • 29% more likely to agree strongly that someone at work cares about them

Highly-matrixed employees are less likely to agree they know what is expected of them at work, and are less likely to say their work aligns with their job description. Less than 20% of highly-matrixed employees say their projects are well-managed. “Matrixed teams are about more than organizational structure — they are about a mindset, skillset and way of working,” Gallup says. “They are an evolving area of practice and discovery. While matrixed teams have been around for quite some time, they have not yet been perfected.”

Old organizational structures and management practices are failing, and while new models appear to work better, most organizations still appear to be struggling to engage people in meaningful ways. Feeling connected and supported, being able to develop and contribute our own unique gifts, working to achieve a higher purpose, and being acknowledged for making a difference is the Holy Grail.

This article is an excerpt from a book in progress on complexity, collaboration, and the challenges of transformative change. It was first posted on June 12, 2018, on LinkedIn.

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David Forrest

David is the founder of the Integral Strategy Network. He is a writer, futurist, strategist, and facilitator of systemic change.

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