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Engaged Employees: Rowing? Or Drilling Holes?

Are your employees all rowing in the same direction? Or are some drilling holes in the boat?

Are you one of the few who looks forward to Monday mornings? How about your employees? Are you creating a place where your team is looking forward to bringing their all for another week?

Every few years since the early 2000’s Gallup conducts an annual State of the American Workplace survey. And every time the results are alarmingly similar: only 30% of workers are engaged in any kind of meaningful way; About fifty percent are disengaged; and about 20 are actively disengaged. This distribution has remained surprisingly consistent since their first survey to their latest in 2017.

As defined by Gallup for the report:

Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.

Not engaged employees are essentially checked out. They’re sleepwalking through their workday putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.

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.

Disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees by more than 2:1. To put this in perspective, imagine you have ten people rowing in a boat:

Pictogram of two rowers
  • Three are rowing in the right direction.
  • Five would look like they are rowing but their oars are not touching the water.
  • And the two in the back? They’re drilling holes in the boat!

This is crazy. There is no need for the modern workplace to be so dysfunctional.

How to Get Everyone to Not Only Row, But Row In the Same Direction

Start with good managers.

A good boss is the defining characteristic between job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction, between mediocre and high performance. Train people how to be good managers. Reward people for being good managers. As Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup says in the report, “When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits — nothing.”

Define your culture.

But don’t just define it; articulate it in a thousand different ways. Culture is simply the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and processes that lead to decisions. Don’t just hire people for ‘fit,’ — clearly define what fit looks like and allow people to adapt to those expectations.

Look for (and utilize) your employee’s strengths.

Expect and encourage people to work toward their strengths and their sweet spot: that magic intersection of who they are, what they’re good at, and what brings value to the organization. According to the report, “Gallup has found that managers who focus on their employees’ strengths can practically eliminate active disengagement and double the average of U.S. workers who are engaged nationwide.”

Want more? Additional resources:

Don’t despair. Engagement comes when people know what to do, know what fitting in looks like, and are working on things that are stretching and developing them. This is not as hard to achieve as it sounds. All it takes is an intention and desire to do so.

Originally published October 2, 2013. Revised and updated July 23, 2019.

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