The true cost of dis­en­gage­ment at the work­place

If an em­ployee’s heart is not in their work, it can cost both them and their em­ployer. In fact, re­cent re­search shows that ac­tive dis­en­gage­ment costs the US econ­omy up to $550bn per year.

Finweek English Edition - - On the Money - By Amanda Visser

peo­ple spend at least 45 hours of the 168 hours in a week at their place of work. The ex­pec­ta­tion is that those hours should be mean­ing­ful to em­ploy­ees, that em­ploy­ees are achiev­ing their goals and that they ex­pe­ri­ence pos­i­tive emo­tions while at work.

Yet re­search by global per­for­mance-man­age­ment con­sult­ing com­pany Gallup shows that only 13% of em­ploy­ees across 142 coun­tries are “en­gaged” in their work while 87% of work­ers are “not en­gaged” or “ac­tively dis­en­gaged”.

This means that glob­ally only 13% of the work­force is emo­tion­ally in­vested in and fo­cused on cre­at­ing value for their or­gan­i­sa­tions ev­ery day. The rest are emo­tion­ally dis­con­nected from their work­places and less likely to be pro­duc­tive.

Ac­tively dis­en­gaged em­ploy­ees con­tinue to out­num­ber en­gaged em­ploy­ees by nearly two to one. This im­plies that at the global level, work is more of­ten a source of frus­tra­tion than one of ful­fil­ment.

“It also means count­less work­places world­wide are less pro­duc­tive and less safe than they could be and are less likely to cre­ate badly needed new jobs,” the 2013 Gallup State of the Global Work­place sur­vey found.

The South African pic­ture

Only 13% of em­ploy­ees across 142 coun­triesin their are work “en­gaged”while 87% of work­ers are “not en­gaged” or “ac­tively dis­en­gaged”.

Things are even worse in South Africa. Only 9% of the work­force are en­gaged, 46% are not en­gaged and 45% are ac­tively dis­en­gaged.

East Asia has the low­est pro­por­tion of en­gaged em­ploy­ees in the world, at 6%. The re­gional find­ing is driven pre­dom­i­nantly by re­sults from China, where 6% of em­ploy­ees are en­gaged in their jobs.

Ker­stin Jatho, pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy life coach at 4Seeds, says that em­ploy­ees choose how they ap­proach work.

“Peo­ple choose to be en­gaged by bring­ing their head, hand and heart to work. Very of­ten peo­ple only bring their head and hands to work,” she says. “To bring your heart to work, you re­ally have to be­lieve in the val­ues and cul­ture of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Your work re­ally has to ex­cite you. Be­ing proud of your com­pany cer­tainly helps with the choice to be en­gaged or not.”

The Gallup sur­vey sin­gles out the min­ing in­dus­try in South Africa. The in­dus­try, an im­por­tant source of em­ploy­ment in the coun­try, has been plagued by vi­o­lent and desta­bil­is­ing labour un­rest.

Jatho says there are many sec­tors where there is dis­trust be­tween the work­force and the com­pany. The min­ing in­dus­try has been par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic be­cause of all the play­ers and the type of work in­volved.

Peo­ple are see­ing a lot of re­trench­ments. The work­ing en­vi­ron­ment is dan­ger­ous. The hor­ror of the Marikana mas­sacre, where the South African Po­lice Ser­vice opened fire on a crowd of strik­ing minework­ers, killing 34 and wound­ing 78 oth­ers, has not faded.

“The in­dus­try is ac­tu­ally at a level where the is­sues can no longer be ‘band-aided’ to fix a very bro­ken body. It is a hard in­dus­try to be in. There is not a lot of joy there. There is no sim­ple an­swer, but it is about hav­ing the courage to do some­thing.”

She says peo­ple need flex­i­bil­ity, room for cre­ativ­ity, and the abil­ity to col­lab­o­rate with col­leagues. Peo­ple like to be chal­lenged. They want to do mean­ing­ful work and know who ben­e­fits from what they are do­ing.

Jatho ex­plains that for many years the main aim of or­gan­i­sa­tions has been to make prof­its. This has not re­ally changed, but peo­ple have. It is no longer enough to work at the same com­pany un­til re­tire­ment and to sim­ply earn a salary.

She says it is fairly easy to spot the en­gaged worker from the dis­en­gaged one. Jatho tells of the clean­ing staff at a hos­pi­tal who reg­u­larly changed the pic­tures hang­ing on the walls of the wards.

When asked by one of the nurses why they were do­ing this, they said they’d done it to al­le­vi­ate pa­tients’ bore­dom, mak­ing sure that they

To bring your heart to work, you re­ally have to be­lieve in the val­ues and cul­ture of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

didn’t have to lie in bed for days look­ing at the same pic­tures.

“We all have a pur­pose, even if it is only to help oth­ers achieve some­thing,” says Jatho.

It will be a fal­lacy to be­lieve that every­body can be com­pletely en­gaged at the work­place. How­ever, if the num­ber of dis­en­gaged peo­ple can be helped to be­come semi-en­gaged, imag­ine the dif­fer­ence it will make.

Dis­en­gage­ment is ex­pen­sive

“Re­mem­ber, dis­en­gaged em­ploy­ees are ex­pen­sive. You are pay­ing a 100% salary but you are not get­ting 100% out­put,” says Jatho.

Gallup es­ti­mates that ac­tive dis­en­gage­ment costs the US in the re­gion of $450bn to $550bn per year. In Ger­many, it ranges from €112bn to €138bn ($151bn to $186bn) per year. In the UK, ac­tively dis­en­gaged em­ploy­ees cost the coun­try be­tween £52bn and £70bn ($83bn and $112bn) per year.

En­gaged em­ploy­ees are the ones who are most likely to drive in­no­va­tion, growth, and rev­enue that their com­pa­nies des­per­ately need, Gallup’s re­search found.

They con­ceive new prod­ucts and ser­vices, gen­er­ate new ideas, at­tract new cus­tomers, and ul­ti­mately help spur the econ­omy into gen­er­at­ing more good jobs.

Vig­i­lant lead­er­ship

Jatho says lead­ers have to be vig­i­lant to no­tice when they are “los­ing” a worker and have a dis­cus­sion with them: “The hon­est con­ver­sa­tion with the em­ployee is not about why the per­son is not per­form­ing, or threat­en­ing him with dis­ci­plinary ac­tion. That will only lead to more dis­en­gage­ment.”

Ac­cord­ing to her, bosses should es­tab­lish where the per­son got lost and what can be done to bring him back, whether he is still in the right place in the com­pany, or whether it is bet­ter to part ways.

“Lead­ers of­ten shy away from th­ese hon­est con­ver­sa­tions – hop­ing the sit­u­a­tion will re­solve it­self. Nor­mally it does not,” she com­ments.

Gallup’s re­search has found that man­agers are pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for their em­ploy­ees’ en­gage­ment lev­els.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions should coach man­agers to take an ac­tive role in build­ing en­gage­ment plans with their em­ploy­ees, hold man­agers ac­count­able, track their progress, and en­sure they con­tin­u­ously fo­cus on emo­tion­ally en­gag­ing their sub­or­di­nates. ■

Peo­ple at­tend­ing a cer­e­mony at Marikana in 2014 in trib­ute of vic­tims of the Marikana mas­sacre in 2012.

Ker­stin Jatho Pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy life coach at 4Seeds

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