Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report says that 70% of U.S. workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. This disengagement costs businesses roughly $500 billion dollars annually in lost productivity. For those workers, work is not something they enjoy; rather it is a means to survival. Like a bad relationship, they feel trapped and unworthy of more; their despair grows like a cancer each day.
Consider the following narrative, which is typical for disengaged individuals.
I Hate My Job
“Every day I stare at the same four walls, wondering when they will cave in on me. I’m a prisoner, not being held against my will, but out of necessity. I have a basic human need for food and shelter that keeps me coming back, day after day, year after year. I can’t walk away, although I have tried a thousand times.
I hate my job. Every day when the alarm goes off, it feels like the covers on my bed weigh a thousand pounds and it is all I can do to escape their pressing grip. I drag myself out of bed and head for the coffee maker, seeking the one thing that brings me enough comfort to keep moving forward.
My morning routine never varies. I don’t have to think or feel the numbness inside my brain. The commute to my prison is so ingrained that I barely notice the other drones in their cars, heading to their cells. I pull into the parking lot, silently grab my sack lunch and head for the building, each step an immense effort not to turn around and run.
My boss hates me. My contributions are never appreciated; I am treated like a fly on the wall, inconsequential and unnoticed—almost an annoyance, but not enough of one to be eliminated. I sit down, turn on my computer and begin the countdown to five o’clock, so I can go home and prepare to do it all over again tomorrow. I feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, living the same day over and over.
Culture of Employee Engagement
Employers and company culture play crucial roles in employee happiness and engagement. Employee engagement isn’t a new concept, but it becomes more relevant over time as generational differences change the workforce.
According to the website Engage for Success, “employee engagement is a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organizations’ goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.”
A survey done by Kent University on workplace happiness indicates that 72% of the rising generation want a job where they can make an impact. They describe the need for autonomy and the ability to manage their own time and decisions as necessary components of a satisfying work environment.
For most of the 20th century, people worked under the “my way or the highway” mentality. You did your task, didn’t ask questions and got a paycheck. It was all about the routine, the process. Today’s knowledge economy requires a different approach.
Recently, I took a team to visit a client about a new project. Two of the members of the team questioned why there were going and wondered aloud about the value they would add. After the meeting it was fun to hear the excitement in their voices as we discussed their contributions and their roles going forward. That was employee engagement at its finest.
According to John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co, a few simple things increase employee engagement.
- Listen to everyone. The best way to make someone feel important is to listen to them.
- Encourage individuality. There is a fine line here, but allowing people to express themselves greatly improves their work, creativity and morale. Before allowing complete freedom, have a discussion about guidelines and expectations.
- Show appreciation. Praise them publicly when something great happens. People want to feel like their contribution matters, so show them. Taking time to say thank you for a job well done goes a long way.
While it is not an employer’s or leader’s job to make each employee happy, they can create an environment that promotes happiness. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to be responsible for their own happiness, but working in an environment where they can be happy is important.
For employees, increased happiness leads to increased productivity and increased productivity leads to the sun shining just a little bit brighter each day; making the world a better place.