Bringing lost believers back into the fold

Apparently one in three of us are 'disengaged' employees – or are we just suffering from S.A.D?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In its latest WorkEurope study, consultant Watson Wyatt argues that the best-performing employees have a strong level of commitment to their employer and a good ‘line of sight’ – an understanding of how they can make a positive contribution. However, according to its survey of 14,000 European workers, about 36% of us racked up low scores in one or both of these areas.

Watson Wyatt has sub-divided these poor souls into three categories. Bottom of the heap are ‘the disengaged’, who score badly on both counts – these tend to be your lowest-performers, so you need to shape them up or ship them out before they start affecting morale. Then there’s the ‘aligned sceptics’: they know how to make a splash but are low on commitment – so not surprisingly, these are the people most likely to abscond to one of your competitors. And finally we’ve got the ‘lost believers’ – the people who are never going to quit, but have a weak ‘line of sight’. Because they have no idea how to make the company better, they don’t tend to be much good, so the management needs to educate them better.

By contrast, it says, the top-performing employees in the company tend to be those who score highly in both categories – which sadly amounts to just 13% of us. Watson Wyatt calls this group ‘value creators’, although they might be better known around your office by the less official term ‘brown-noses’.

About half of us fall into the middle ground that Watson Wyatt euphemistically calls ‘core contributors’ – scoring reasonably well on both counts but with plenty of room for improvement. It reckons companies have plenty of scope to squeeze more juice out of this group.

The titles may be nonsense, but there’s a germ of truth in here. The survey found that 40% of us are thinking about moving jobs – but different people will have very different reasons for getting itchy feet. Dividing up your staff like this might help you to appeal to them in the right way (assuming you want to, of course). Although of course we can’t blame it all on the employees. If senior management across the board did a better job of telling their staff exactly what was going on in their companies, they probably wouldn’t have these problems.

But perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into this survey. Is it really the case that a third of us are lacking proper ‘line of sight’? Or is it just that it’s January, the weather’s horrible, and we’re all miserable because of our self-imposed booze bans? Our guess is it’s probably a bit of both...

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