Seventy percent of workers are not engaged in their work

Seventy percent of workers are not engaged in their work

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Seventy percent of workers are not engaged in their work

Yikes. I’ve seen these number before, but every time I see them, I am astounded.  Gallup breaks the numbers out as follows: 


Engaged (30% of the U.S. population): Deeply committed to the success of their organization and emotionally connected to its mission and goals. Routinely willing to put forth discretionary effort.

Disengaged (52% of the U.S. population): Less emotionally connected to their work and less compelled to put forth extra effort. They show up for work but generally do only the minimum required.

Actively Disengaged (18% of the U.S. population): Actively against what the organization, and their boss, is trying to get done.

Here’s a good piece by Mark Crowley at Fast Company, where he interviews Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and well-being on the implications of these findings:

Measuring engagement is a critical first step, as Mark notes in his article, and which is why I find this new engagement tracking service called TinyPulse somewhat interesting. It regularly polls and aggregates data on employee sentiments. I tried implementing something like this from scratch years ago in my organization using a Salesforce database. The key is keeping the survey short, simple and easy to fill out consistently and over time.

Mark also notes the critical importance of having a good boss. At the Wisdom 2.0 conference a few months back, I heard Melissa Daimler, Head of Org Effectiveness & Learning at Twitter, say:

“Most people don’t leave companies; they leave managers.”

I know, right? 

Much of my personal focus over the last decade was around engagement of people outside the organization, but as the above figures clearly show, it all starts with engaging people on the inside. If we don’t get that right, there’s no base on which to build. 


“Third-Order Engagement”:



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  1. I saw this (engagement stats) in the Harvard Business Review and shared it at work recently. It’s good to see it on G+. I love the quote about employees leaving managers. It’s so true. Over my career, we’ve lost most highly talented people due to bad managers.

  2. I’ve had so many jobs Gideon Rosenblatt and I’m still in my mid 20s! My disengagement always stemmed from the feeling of lack of power within a company. I don’t mean power in the sense that I could tell people what to do. I mean lack of power in the sense of enacting change within the company.

    Any improvements I suggested or ideas I had fell to deaf ears. As someone who is always looking for something new and different, you can imagine that kind of environment got boring really fast for me. I mastered my craft and moved on to something new and different. Engagement for me rests on the ability to innovate and create. To help an organization grow.

  3. Only 70%? I just assume that 90% of jobbers aren’t engaged in the least.

  4. What do you expect when the attitude is “You are an easily replaceable cog”? The 52% are doing exactly what the contract says.  The 30% and 18% are identical other than who is getting screwed.

  5. My disengagement comes from the fact that I don’t care about profit or business success or benchmarks. I am there to do a job for money, and my money is decoupled from the success of the business to a large extent in the 21st century. #endemployment

  6. Well said, Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales. The best, most talented and desirable workers are not at a particular company because it pays the best, but because they feel part of a team that’s doing something that matters and welcomes their contribution to that effort.

    Even for relatively non-social folks like me, people matter most of all. In the current social and economic environment, companies regard employees, particularly line level employees, as assets, not something worthy of loyalty. It’s naive and potentially harmful to be loyal to a company. Be loyal to your colleagues. Build and maintain human relationships. I’m at my current company because I enjoy my work (some of it anyway) and enjoy being part of a team engaged in a worthwhile project. If the project ends and the people disperse, I’ll have very little reason to stay with the company.

    Companies (and economies) thrive on innovation and the way to keep talented people is to treat them as partners in a continuous (if slow) cycle of creating and recreating the company as well as the products, trying new ideas and structures and always looking to optimize what works, discard what doesn’t, and keep your eyes open for improvements in your field that you can incorporate to improve your own work.

    This approach is rare in business, and exceedingly rare in larger companies, but it’s necessary if you want to attract and retain the best people.

    I hope this didn’t come across as a lecture. I think about and discuss engagement quite a bit and am passionate about optimizing the environments in which we spend a significant part of our lives. 

  7. A very large part of employee disengagement is that the organisation they work for does not give the employee discretionary power to make the right decision.  So, Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales if, at your age, you’ve had somany jobs as you state, perhaps your focus should really be in garnering that experience and focussing on how you can best put that knowledge in furthering yourself, be it through another organisation.

    Better yet, if you can do it – and you’re young enough, on your own.  Sounds like you’ve got talent and the stamina :=)

  8. Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales,  I think you’re hitting on something really important. It’s that sense of power, or what Daniel Pink calls “autonomy” that is so critical to feeling like we are more than just a cog in the wheel. Yesterday, I shared a post on a model for engagement (with external partners), called the “engagement pyramid” and I use the term “owning” to get at what you’re talking about:

    Without that freedom, agency, power, ownership, autonomy, or whatever you want to call it, it’s really hard to want to truly invest the deeper aspects of ourselves. 

  9. I like where you’re going with that, Richard Harlos. In a way, actually, you’re talking a little bit like Marx when he was talking about alienation from our work. When our work is abstracted and divorced from a sense of meaning and “ownership” (see previous comment), I think we get to a place of disengagement really quickly, and technology and specialization/compartmentalization plays a big role in that. My guess is that if Gallup were to break out the data by industry, we would see that the less routinized work (and here I’m drawing on lessons from Brynjolfsson and McAfee in their work on technology and unemployment), we would see more engagement, and vice-versa. Marx didn’t have the answers, but I think he did correctly see some of the questions. 

  10. paul beard, I’m working down through the comments, so didn’t see yours until after I commented above, but I think Pink’s work is absolutely essential reading around this question. 

  11. Very nicely stated, Christopher Lamke. That’s right on based on my experience. 

  12. Kevin FitzMaurice, glad to have you here, but I think you need to lighten up a bit on plugging your book. One link is fine, but three times is a bit much. 

  13. Very interesting debate. Like Jim Harter’s practical advice. Makes sense. Very similar to good brand management – the more emotionally engaged your consumers are, the more loyal.

  14. Wow Gideon Rosenblatt… That Engagement Pyramid article is a lot of fantastic information. And that kind of engagement is absolutely critical of nonprofit employees (we aren’t there for the money). 

  15. Oksana Szulhan you’ll be happy to hear that my job search has paused as I currently have two jobs that embody the word challenge lol.

    My work at SEOWiSE is a new challenge every day and one I willingly take up. It is a completely new organization (there’s two of us) in which my partner completely respects and values my opinions. However, we both understand the other’s expertise. He is the tech. guy as well as the guy who really gets things done in a business sense. Whereas I embody the organization. I create, develop, and maintain relationships with those around us and I love it! I get to talk to people all day. Who doesn’t enjoy that. 

    Job number two is being a full-time graduate student and part-time teacher at Kent State University. If you want a challenge, try teaching the intro level of communication to college Freshmen. Things always stay interesting to say the least 😉

  16. Interesting that it nearly parallels the 80:20 ratio of the Pareto Principle.

  17. paul beard, I had a feeling before I even linked to the post you reference above that it’d be that article. I ran across it yesterday via a link Seb Paquet shared on Facebook. Haven’t made it all the way through it yet and am out most of today but will check it out later. Looks very interesting. 

  18. Thanks Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales. Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And I think it applies too to a growing number of more mission-driven businesses, like B Corps, etc. 

  19. Excellent, Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales; I can relate to balancing work, university, and family obligations.  All the best :=)

  20. Gideon Rosenblatt The whole point of worker engagement is to try to lock people into their job. It presupposes a societal need for jobs and uses many kinds of science at which these workers would be aghast to try to figure out how to stick these modern-day slaves to their work. In other words, talking about worker engagement is, in my view, talking about how better to enslave the lower classes and /make them like it/.

  21. That’s one perspective, David Arnold. And, actually, I don’t deny that there is some truth to that, especially in certain types of organizations. Perhaps most – especially those that practice shareholder primacy. But I don’t think it has to be that way. We humans love to find meaning and work can be a wonderful form of self-expression. I personally have felt that in my work life twice, and I’ve worked with many others who have also experienced that. 

  22. Richard Harlos, I think there are two distinct elements here: 1) a lack of autonomy, or coercive element in management; and 2) employment terms that are financially “extractive” in nature. The former can happen as a result of an organizational culture or the management style of an individual. The latter tends to be more systemic and is the result of the way that our assumptions about ownership work today in a world where shareholder primacy is the dominant frame of thinking about business. That’s my thinking at least, and none of this is a requirement for capitalism or markets to work.  

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