According to a report from Gallup 70% of American workers are either not-engaged or actively disengaged, which means they’re disruptive and undermining workplace productivity. And here’s a related stat: “Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the US $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.”
There are two competing potential reactions to these findings: surprise and its opposite. To hear these numbers is almost shocking. But then again most people we probably know are bored or don’t like their jobs and would rather be doing something else. It’s epidemic.
The Gallup document quantifies that through the lens of its engagement metric:
The report goes into lots of detail about the conditions that produce or discourage employee engagement and its impact on the corporate bottom line. It tries to make very concrete and prescriptive recommendations about how to boost employee engagement.
It’s not clear whether employers are just unaware of the scale of the problem or whether there’s little to be done about it. Perhaps it’s just a function of the organization and alienation characteristic of the “modern workplace.”
Indeed despite Gallup’s prescriptions it appears from the graphic above that employee engagement and disengagement have been pretty flat and consistent over the past twelve years since Gallup began monitoring employee engagement.
Below are the Gallup questions used to determine level of engagement:
In many of the startup situations I see young workers would all-but-give their lives for the company, which is not representative of the US workforce as a whole — obviously.
Yet being engaged shouldn’t mean giving up everything for work (in fact that leads to burnout). We need a new, more dignified model of work where employees are respected and their ideas matter and where there’s a healthy relationship between work and play or rest. It’s actually more functional for creativity and idea generation in the long run.
The world of startups and Silicon Valley is not a very balanced place. Notwithstanding Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to go have dinner with your family there’s a unbalanced, “structural” bias in startup culture toward very hard work.
The Gallup engagement recommendations are mostly tactical and one might even argue manipulative. But there’s a larger existential issue behind these engagement numbers. While a small number of people have great, exciting jobs and amass the spoils of those jobs the majority of Americans are sleepwalking through life — “checking out” at work.
In a way those are wasted lives.