Photo by Jen Fritz 2016

The Winter (Spring, Summer and Fall) of our Discontent

I just read a Gallup statistic that an incredible 70% of US workers are disengaged from their jobs. Seventy percent!

That is a huge number of people who do their jobs day in and day out without putting any heart behind their actions. And it begs the question, how do companies survive when more than two-thirds of their workforce could care less about its future, its clients’ needs, or even their own futures?

As a manager, business development professional, and coach who has spent the last couple of decades trying to engage professionals to be more than an office zombie, it immediately makes me wonder how I would go about diverting a boat heading straight to a waterfall when most of its crew are rowing in different directions, or just not rowing at all. What a position to be in!

Comedian George Carlin once quipped: “Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”, and this is a sad reality for many people. I know from personal experience that what tends to happen in companies where the vast number of employees are disengaged, is the engaged workers end up being the ones assigned all the urgent and important tasks. Some employees can thrive in such an environment because being the ‘saviour’ gives them a sense of purpose, but eventually a cycle emerges:


Companies invest a huge percentage of their bottom line in training and employing staff. When an employee leaves, so too does that investment. The more senior the role, the more it will cost to replace them. It is an expensive process to bring someone new on board and have them reach the level of competency that the previous employee held. Even for a role once occupied by a Disengaged Employee. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes letting such an employee go is a necessary amputation, but it needs to be a thoughtful and introspective exercise. The worst thing a company can do is dump the hiring process on their HR department without anything more than a job description, leading the company to repeat the cycle with a new person.

Before a replacement comes on, management must consider what went wrong in the relationship – including where they failed the employee – and commit to making changes that will result in prolonged employee engagement at all staff levels.

So, where do companies often fail their people?  As the chart indicates, employees who are rewarded (either through compensation, feedback, growth, and other perks), will feel like valued members of the company, and continue to feel fulfilled. Though it does happen, it is rare for an employee who loves their job to leave it.

Take a look at this terrific Employee Engagement Tips list from Dale Carnegie Training for ideas on keeping people happy. Implementing even a dozen of these can work wonders for staff morale.

The worst thing a company/its managers can do for employee morale is ignore their people. The productive employee that asks their manager for a conversation about their future, and expresses a  desire to do more at the company is the employee that should be nurtured. They are the Engaged Employees – one of the 30% who want to succeed along with your company! Even if the company cannot at that time give the employee what they want, the honest conversation needs to be had. Efforts need to be made at the management level to keep that person engaged, or help them grow in other ways. But be aware that putting off your Engaged Employee for a prolonged period will result in a Disengaged Employee and once that happens, it will be even more difficult to bring them back over to the Engaged side.

If there will never be an opportunity for that Engaged Employee to experience growth within your company (because sometimes there really isn’t anywhere for them to grow), it is better for everyone involved to let them know that sooner than later.

Don’t begrudge them for wanting to be more. Acknowledge that not all your people were meant to stay with you, and willingly give them the freedom to move on.

And employees, don’t begrudge your employers for not being able to give you everything you want. Sometimes you need to move out in order to move forward.

That’s just the way life is.



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