I just came across a post I did seven years ago this week (on the tompeters.com blog) on the subject of employee engagement—which the Gallup organization measures in extensive surveys on a regular basis.
The results over the last seven years have remained gloomily consistent. THEN: 31% of US employees were "actively engaged," 52% were "not engaged," and 17% were "actively disengaged." NOW: 30% actively engaged, 52% not engaged, and 18% actively disengaged (which means “roaming the halls spreading discontent”!).
I don’t need to tell you these numbers have economic consequences, but I will. The cost of having so many disengaged US workers is now estimated at $550 billion annually. (And that’s the organizational cost, not the personal cost. A majority of these actively disengaged employees believe their disenchantment is taking a toll on their physical health.)
Meanwhile a recent Gallup survey of German workers is more alarming: 24% of workers are actively disengaged—and feel worse than if they were unemployed! According to the Gallup report: “Actively disengaged employees are less likely than unemployed workers to say they experienced enjoyment, smiled or laughed a lot, were treated with respect, learned something interesting, or experienced happiness the day before the survey.” And this is happening in Deutschland—the high performance engine of the European economy!
Why, you ask, is there such a lack of employee engagement in business?
Lots of good reasons. Many employees experience a lack of freedom, a feeling of not being recognized or appreciated, a perceived inability to make a difference, a lack of connection between their job and what’s important to them. Some feel their work lacks any creativity or self-expression. Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith in their brilliant polemic, The End of Management and the Rise of Organizational Democracy, lay the blame squarely on “hierarchy, bureaucracy, and autocracy”—and do a thorough job of lambasting command-and-control management. Others will say simply (but eloquently), “Bad bosses.”
The best snapshot I’ve seen of worker disengagement came from a time I was coaching a design team in northern Ontario to radically improve the process flow of their saw mill. While canvassing employees to find ideas for improvements, the team interviewed one worker who mentioned that a simple mechanical fix would remove recurring jam-ups on his saw line, saving—conservatively speaking—thousands of dollars a week. He complained about it to his shift supervisor years earlier but was told, “Just do your job.” It may not surprise you to learn that this was the last time the poor fellow ever volunteered a suggestion to management. If there’s a better way to produce actively disengaged employees, I can’t think of it.
This is a topic I devote significant space to in my upcoming book, Business Lessons From Rock (an amazing coincidence, given the title of this blog), in which I highlight engagement—or passion or enthusiasm—as one of the six success traits of the great rock bands, which we might be wise to emulate in our businesses. The book covers many angles from which to address this issue, but my favorite approach is one that the great bands have taken—The Beatles, The Who, Green Day, etc.—which consists of a ridiculously simple formula: GENERATE (from scratch, out of nothing) excitement. Decide to be enthusiastic. Crank up the energy. Like anything else you do for a while, it will soon become a habit.
Case in point… One June night in 1964, while performing with The Who on a high stage at the Railway Tavern in West London, Pete Townshend broke the head of his guitar by accidentally poking it through the low ceiling. So it wouldn't look like a mistake, he proceeded to finish off the job by repeatedly punching the guitar through the ceiling until the instrument was reduced to “a splintered mess” in front of surprised audience members (and band mates). After receiving a rousing reception for this, the band made it a nightly practice to passionately attack their instruments and sometimes destroy them in a scorching finale to their shows. The Who quickly became the most thrilling live act in the UK—and later in the US. At every gig, members of the band would provoke each other to new heights of performance (the "service" they were providing) which inspired their audience (their customers) to rave about them to friends (their new customers), in a sales dynamic as old as the pyramids. Passion begets passion. The contagiousness of enthusiasm is a marvel to behold.
So should employees destroy office furniture in a frenzy of excitement at the end of their meetings? Probably not, though it might make boring meetings more memorable. But expressing a little enthusiasm can go a long way.