Workplace disengagement is a 'worldwide epidemic'

70% of the global workforce is either not engaged or actively disengaged, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. What can be done?

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 18 Dec 2014

Although decades of scientific research show that engaged employees perform better than their disengaged counterparts, disengagement is a worldwide epidemic. For more than 10 years, surveys have indicated that no less than 70% of the global workforce is either not engaged or actively disengaged.

A similar number of employees are now open to alternative jobs - which explains the steady rise of LinkedIn - as well as seriously considering self-employment, mostly to avoid having a boss.

Poor management is the number-one reason for the high disengagement levels. As the saying goes, people join companies but quit their bosses, and those who don't are simply more resilient, risk-averse or less able to find other jobs.

Unsurprisingly, engagement has become a key item in most organisations, and HR departments have become obsessed by annual survey results and are looking at ways to enhance employee wellbeing in order to boost productivity.

However, the best way to improve employee engagement is to boost productivity. That is, get employees to perform to a high level as opposed to underusing them, and they will most likely engage.

For all the talk of employee wellbeing and making working more like playing a game, what most employees want, especially when they are ambitious and willing to make a significant contribution to the organisation, is to perform well. And this requires leadership.

Leadership is what transforms an individual's potential into a critical ingredient of a high-performing team. When people are properly managed, they raise their own game by producing things they would not have been able to alone and achieving beyond expectations, even if it requires hard work.

Yes, engagement does energise, but nothing is as energising as winning, especially when winning equates to achieving a meaningful goal. People don't join companies to have fun or make friends, but when their talents are put to good use, they almost certainly bond with their colleagues and enjoy their jobs.

Ultimately, when people feel proud of their achievements, they will find meaning at work, which will increase not just engagement but also loyalty, turning your employees into genuine brand ambassadors.

The best employers of the world are not competitive because they have an engaged workforce; they have an engaged workforce because they are competitive. Likewise, few unproductive employees will be engaged, even if we try to entertain them or bribe them with perks.

- Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of metaprofiling.com.

Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter at @drtcp.

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