To conversation about disengaged workers, listeners say, 'Yep'

Feet on desk at work
A worker kicks back at the office.
Coal Miki via Flickr

A conversation on The Daily Circuit about disengaged workers struck a nerve among listeners.

You, too? Add your comments below.

The conversation was sparked by a recent Gallup Poll that found Minnesota workers were the least engaged employees in the United States. The findings were part of Gallup's "State of the American Workplace" survey. The numbers showed that U.S. workers are more disengaged than ever.

The survey was "really kind of discouraging news," said Teresa Amabile, a Harvard professor and guest on the program.

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"I think that we have just come out of a disengagement crisis in this country," she said. "Engagement levels were at an all-time low from 2008 to 2012. Just recently, it started to tick up a little bit — a very slow climb, slower than the economy seems to be climbing out of its doldrums. Engagement across the US workforce seems to just be stuck."

The report says the disengagement costs the United States an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually.

The survey measures engagement by gathering employee responses to such statements as "I know what is expected of me at work," "At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day" and "At work, my opinions seem to count."

Heidi in St. Cloud knows what happens when an employee's opinion doesn't seem to count. "What completely disengages me from my job is that at my place of employment they'll ask, 'What can we do to help you, what can we do to make things better around here?' And we tell them, and we'll have a meeting. And after that, absolutely nothing happens and nothing changes.

"So I feel like nobody's being heard and nobody's listening and it's hard to stay motivated at work when you know that nobody really cares about what you think."

A Tweet from Rich made a similar point:

@DailyCircuit if one wants to have engaged employees as a manager you can't just pretend to have to actually care about them

— rich Wanket (@RichWanket) June 20, 2013

Sally, a mail carrier in Duluth, said the engagement-killer for her is micromanagement.

"We have places we have to scan so they know when we're there," she said. "We have GPS trackers now so they can check up where we're at, and whatnot. There's no room for creativity, unless I want to make name labels really pretty or something. If you do an incredible job, you're rewarded with more work to do. So you just do what's expected of you, and do it satisfactorally. If you give it your all, they'll just add on to your route. It's not the kind of job where you'll get a raise for doing a stellar job."

The same thing bothers Maria:

@KerriMPR corporate culture in MN is very very safe and has unesesary levels mangmnt. micromngnt disempowers workers and stifles creativity

— mariahorn (@mariahorn) June 20, 2013

Tim in Marshall called to say that something about Minnesota culture discourages engagement:

"I am a doctoral graduate in organizational leadership and I am, myself, an extremely disengaged employee," Tim said. "I've worked in several major cities across the United States, and when I came to Minnesota ... I was trying to put my finger on what the difference was." His conclusion: "A lot of the employees don't like change. I was hired to implement change. ... They liked the status quo, it seems. If we want to advance our businesses, you want people to come to the table with creative ideas and start putting forth some energy to drive that business."

Like Sally in Duluth, Jacob thought it might help if an employee's best effort earned a financial reward:

@DailyCircuit it comes from a lack of incentive. if how hard I worked had a direct effect on how much money I made that would engage me.

— Jacob Cockram (@goldencamel85) June 20, 2013

But James in St. Paul seemed to suggest that the most important thing is to take pride in one's work, whatever that work may be:

"I work in a convenience store, part-time, which is one of those places where it's easy to disengage if you want to," he said. "But what we have done as a group is concentrate on things that we can affect, like we try really hard to make sure our bathrooms are cleaner than other places', our food is fresher, and that sort of thing. Which is fairly small. But it does show in terms of our customers' appreciating it, workmen and police officers taking more breaks more often at our station because they can depend on certain things that mean something to them.

"It may be small in the overall scheme of things, but it allows you to have some satisfaction, even in a place where generally there isn't much challenge or interest for most people."


How to Tackle U.S. Employees' Stagnating Engagement
Whether hiring from the outside or promoting from within, organizations that scientifically select managers for the unique talents it takes to effectively manage people greatly increase the odds of engaging their employees. Instead of using management jobs as promotional prizes for all career paths, companies should treat these roles as unique with distinct functional demands that require a specific talent set. They should select managers based on whether they have the right talents for supporting, positioning, empowering, and engaging their staff. (Gallup Business Journal)

How Offices Become Complaint Departments
The work settings with the highest morale and the greatest collegiality are those in which "people can feel free to respectfully complain," says Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University in South Carolina. When people air their complaints, they can receive validation that a problem is real, and move closer to a solution. (The New York Times)

• Teresa Amabile's TEDx Talk: