When employees quit and stay

sleep-2324347__480 When I was happily employed as a full-time musician many years ago, I noticed the difference between those who played music as if their life depended on it and those who didn’t.

Maybe I was just lucky, but the former description fit nearly all the rock musicians I shared a stage with, from talented local bar bands in NY and LA to concert headliners such as Sly and the Family Stone and The Grateful Dead. These musicians performed and rehearsed with urgency, with something at stake. They weren’t always playing for their livelihood but they always seemed to be playing for their life.

Unfortunately I also knew a few musicians—usually in wedding or "general business" bands—who might actually nod off during a rehearsal or gig! (Just for the record, I have nothing against wedding bands, or even weddings for that matter.) I remember when a leader of a cocktail quartet complained to me about his drummer: “I wish he would just quit.” I could only respond: “I think he did a while ago.”

This is all too often the case in business at large. You probably know plenty of workers who mail it in. Their life is not in their work. In fact, surveys show an alarming number of employees in most organizations are mailing it in.

According to Gallup’s new State of the Global Workplace report only 15% of employees worldwide are actively engaged in their jobs. 85% are not living up to their potential, which affects their value to their employers and the degree of fulfillment they get from work. (The numbers are better in the US—68% not engaged—but nothing to crow about.) These statistics may surprise you, but they have remained roughly consistent over many years of detailed Gallup surveys. There are survey results by other organizations that are less shocking, but still not comforting.

No wonder Matthew Kelly, author of The Dream Manager, says, “Disengagement is probably the only problem larger than the turnover problem. A lot of employees quit and stay.”

A favorite quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr:

Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.

The lesson here? Don’t worry so much about employees who quit and leave. They aren’t your biggest problem.

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  1. I had forgotten where I read the "quit and stay" comment. Great book.

    It makes me sad that people are still stuck doing uninspiring work and that some managers are making wonderful jobs into nightmares.

    1. I think Tom Peters quoted Kelly's line a lot.

      I confess I don't SEE first-hand a lot of "mailing it in" in business, but I HEAR about it all the time. Presumably that's because the businesses that go out of their way to hire consultants and trainers aren't the ones who need the most help.

  2. I don't encounter that many associates who quit and stay, especially in high tech. I don't doubt the numbers across the board, but I'm sure some industries have a much larger percentage of 'not engaged' associates.

  3. IWelcome back, John!IMO, the problem isn't so much that a large number
    IMO, the problem isn't that a large number of employees aren't actively engaged; it's that a large number of managers don't or can't or aren't allowed to actively engage their staff.

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