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Worker Discontent and Disengagement Rising

ABC News reports that worker discontent and disengagement is on the rise. On Tuesday, ABC News shared a report by Gallup with its on-line readers explaining that “only 30 percent of US employees are engaged or inspired at work while 70 percent are not fully inspired.” Gallup’s report estimates that widespread disengagement in the office is costing the US $450 billion to $550 billion a year in lost productivity.

Years ago, organizational behavior people, like me, talked about employee satisfaction. Today, we speak of employee engagement. Gallup is the organization that coined the phrase. Gallup sets the gold standard for helping organizations assess worker engagement and has spent more than 30 years performing research involving more than 17 million employees to clarify how employee engagement – or lack thereof – impacts businesses’ bottom lines.


If you’re wondering what it means to be an engaged or disengaged worker, I’ll share a quick and easy to remember explanation of the term that comes straight from Gallup Research Consultant, Ryan Darby. Ryan explained to a number of consultants visiting Omaha, NE for Gallup’s StrengthsFinder coaching training that a disengaged employee litters in the workplace and does nothing about it. My add-on to Ryan’s explanation would be this visual – this is the employee whose gum has been discarded on the floor (no wrapper) and lies in wait for the poor soul (and sole) who accidentally steps on it.

Ryan also explained that the non-engaged but also not fully disengaged employee will see trash littering the workplace but do nothing about it. This employee sees the gum and says, “Gross, there’s gum on the floor, be careful!” And finally, Ryan concluded by telling us that the engaged employee is the fantastic individual who sees the trash and picks it up and puts it in the trashcan. Yes, this individual actually pries the gum off the floor and properly disposes of it. In this example, it’s a disgusting job to be an engaged worker, but who would you most want to employ if you owned the business?

When comparing engaged workgroups and disengaged workgroups, there is a dramatic difference in each group’s productivity, profitability, safety incidents, and absenteeism. And if low productivity and greater absenteeism isn’t enough to worry about, there’s more. Gallup also claims that those who are actively disengaged breed negativity. In the ABC News article, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton is quoted as saying that some workers “roam the halls spreading discontent.”

Worker disengagement is a term that we will be hearing more of in the future. As organizations work to increase customer engagement, they are quickly realizing that they may have put the cart before the horse. Increases in employee engagement will drive improvements in customer relationships and in a host of other issues – including fewer gummy shoes.

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