Are You Running on 1/3 Power? What About the Other 2/3?

Employee Engagement: Running on 1/3 Power and Costing the U.S. Economy up to $350 Billion Per Year in Lost Productivity

The statistics on workforce engagement are shocking.

According to research, only 29 percent of employees are motivated and energized. It’s frightening to ponder why and what, then, is happening to the other 2/3 of the people working in organizations?

This is an even worse scenario than the old joke in which a manager is asked how many people work in his company and he responds, “About half of them.”

What is causing all these people to lose their enthusiasm and commitment? Almost everyone joins an organization with engagement. What is it that extinguishes that initial engagement after the first few years of working in an organization? Here are some possible causes:

  • Little or no feedback or guidance from those in leadership positions
  • Lack of opportunity to discuss problems or provide input
  • Lack of resources to solve problems or to do a job well
  • Little or no reward or recognition
  • Little opportunity to develop one’s potential
  • Pressure to perform and achieve more with less
  • Lack of opportunity to interact socially
  • Interpersonal conflicts left unresolved
  • Little joy or humor except for office gossip and cynicism
  • Stress in balancing work and home responsibilities, leading to energy depletion

Measuring Employee Engagement

Since 1997, the Gallup Organization has surveyed approximately 3 million employees in 300,000 work units within corporations. This survey consists of 12 questions—called the “Q12”—that measure employee engagement. Results show that those companies with high Q12 scores experience lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.

The Gallup Management Journal’s semi-annual Employee Engagement Index puts the current percentage of truly “engaged” employees at 29 percent. A majority of workers, 54 percent, fall into the “not engaged” category, while 17 percent are “actively disengaged.”

Here is how the Gallup Organization defines these three types of employees:

  1. (29%) Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
  2. (54%) Not-engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, retired in place, putting in time—but not energy or passion—for their work.
  3. (17%) Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

While leaders of organizations focus intense efforts on building shareholder value, they generally cannot control the stock market. What they should be worried about is the 2/3 of their workforce who is just going through the motions, putting in time at work—without commitment. In fact, Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees—the 17 percent least productive, cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity. How much is the 17% in your organization costing you?

Handling “Not-engaged” Employees

Efforts to raise levels of engagement are definitely worthwhile for those in the not-engaged range. Not engaged employees concentrate on tasks and want to be told what to do. They focus on process, not results. Managers who only assign tasks to an employee reinforce “not engaged” behaviors and move away from engaging the heart, mind, and soul of that person.

The way to get people to become an integral part of an organization is through relationships. Employees who feel disconnected emotionally from their coworkers and supervisor also do not feel committed to their work. They hang back and do the minimum because they don’t believe anyone notices or cares.

The best leaders demonstrate a sense of genuine caring about employees. They understand what’s most important to them. The leader who takes the time to have a dialogue about an employee’s strengths and how these can make a difference forges essential ties and connections that lead to employee commitment.

How to Keep an Employee Engaged

Engaged workers produce more, make more money for the company, and create emotional engagement and loyal customers. They stay with the organization longer and are more committed to quality and growth than are the other two groups of not-engaged and actively disengaged workers. How do you achieve that?

  • Employees must have a strong and positive relationship with their immediate supervisor.
  • They need a clear path set for concentrating on what they do best.
  • They need strong relationships with their coworkers.
  • They must feel a strong commitment with their coworkers so that they will take risks and stretch for excellence.

Engaged employees tend to get the least amount of focus and attention from leaders, in part because they’re doing what they are needed to do. Great leaders spend most of their time with the most productive and talented people because they have the most potential. The challenge comes when the first signs of disengaging appear from an engaged worker. The symptoms need to be addressed immediately or else the disconnection is most likely to continue.

What Employees Want a Manager to Do

For great leaders, the path toward engaging employees and keeping them engaged begins with asking them what they want and what is important in order to be effective in their roles. Here is a summary of what workers responding to the Gallup Q12 survey say they want from their leaders:

Focus me Equip me
Know me Help me see my value
Care about me Help me grow
Hear me Help me see my importance
Help me feel proud Help me build mutual trust
Help me review my contributions Challenge me


Ask Yourself, Honestly

As the economy continues to rebound, the battle for talent will heat back up. As a proactive leader, you should prepare by taking steps now to create the most engaged work force possible. Begin by asking yourself exactly what programs and steps your organization has in place to demonstrate your commitment to your employees’ productive engagement. Identify one or two areas in which your organization needs to improve today and implement those initiatives immediately. It costs far less to engage current employees at a deeper level of commitment than to hire their replacements when they leave for greener pastures. Your future success is riding on it.

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One Response to Are You Running on 1/3 Power? What About the Other 2/3?

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