How come that 85% of employees are disengaged at work?

As many as as 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work according to a Gallup poll from 2017. A sense of meaningfulness is destroyed if their values are disconnected from their employer’s values according to research by MIT Sloan (original article [paid]). To put it very simply: employees are disengaged, because their employer ignores what matters to them.

Employees become disengaged if employers ignore what matters to them. Parties can seem entrenched in their ways (WW1 trench near Ieper, Belgium)

So what does matter to employees? To explore this, let’s look at how organisations have responded to the values of society at large. These values are often summarised with the popular triad of ‘people, planet and profit’ (3P). 3P is a well-known concept that organisations have built policies around for a while now. These policies are often referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR). 95% of the world’s largest companies have adopted CSR programmes (source).

However, largely underpinning CSR has been the so-called shared value creation concept which expects CSR to be linked to competitive advantage, i.e. profit. Therefore, most organisations essentially put maximising profit or shareholder value over anything else. Maximising profit is a value in and of itself.

The 3P values mentioned above don’t necessarily conflict; they can actually strengthen each other. This is what ‘shared value creation’ is about. However, if they do come into conflict, according to the ‘shared value creation’ principles, organisations cannot be expected to sacrifice profit at the expense of people or planet (as also discussed in this article). This raises the question whether organisations actually intrinsically care for ‘people’ and ‘planet’ or whether they are just ‘greenwashing’ profits.

CSR: altruism or greenwashing? More complexity below the surface

But are organisations not entitled to being focussed on their own interests first? We don’t coerce private individuals into being ‘socially responsible’, do we?

How come many employees feel torn between their personal values and the interests of the organisation they work for despite that many organisations have made some effort to respond through CSR policies?

A new post to examine that question will be posted soon. In the meanwhile: what are your thoughts?

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7 thoughts on “How come that 85% of employees are disengaged at work?”

  1. Rik, brilliant blog. I really do struggle with this one. I fully acknowledge the points above: if you don’t like it leave and start your own business or you can stop complaining and be the leader you wish you had to quote Simon Sinek. If you are always looking to your leadership to provide the inspiration and the catalyst for engagement, think again. They are only human, they make mistakes like all the rest of us mere mortals who “pick up our pay check at the end of the month too”. What if you simply looked at things slightly longer term and at a bigger picture: are there any good areas of engagement and care in the company you work for. I also work for Shell and I have say absolutely, yes. It is simple economics to be very brutal about it; if you get sick or injured then you cannot work to full capacity, and therefore, the company isn’t as productive. So keeping you safe, healthy and engaged is in the best interests of every good leader and organisation.
    But….there is always a but. Being a leader means many things, and it is not synonymous with being a manager. Barking out orders and demands as a manager will only bring so much profit and it wont be sustainable- staff will disengage before too long and or quit. The most important part of being a leader is that you really do care. I mean you genuinely care about the people that work for you, their health, their family, how they feel, if they had a good nights sleep, what football team they support and loads more apart from maybe what color socks they wear. In short to have maximum impact you genuinely need to give a s**t about things and people other than yourself. And we know there is so much selfishness in the world and unfortunately, this also happens in companies like Shell too. Some of the best leaders I have come across in the company don’t have a manager title: they are truly inspiring and you always want to work with them. Some of the worst leaders I have come across also have a manager in their title: having the power, the authority that comes with the title is useless without the empathy, the kindness and sometimes “tough love”. This video sums it up for me. People are disengaged and also get very sick when they feel bad about themselves and when they feel they don’t matter. We all must help each other but great leaders have a privilege of leading and a massive responsibility for the welfare of their staff. To recognize their efforts and to make sure every employee goes home feeling fulfilled……all will be engaged and when the s**t hits the fan, will gladly go the extra mile to help their employer and themselves.

    1. Mark, thanks for your extensive comment and sharing the video, which indeed summarises much about what I’m trying to examine and inspire. I would like to add one point and that is that it’s not just ‘good business’ to care for your people. I think leaders need to ask themselves what kind of world they want to live in: that is the reason why you should care for your people. I want to write an article about leadership in the near future and this will be one of my key points: leadership is about developing your personal ethics about what you want the world to look like at different levels and then act upon it. Thanks again for your inspiring comment. Rik

  2. As somebody working in academia and dealing with industry frequently, let me offer my humble view.
    This is just reflection of capitalism. You could see it everywhere from the very poor people working in cafeteria to the rich laboring at big corporations.

    People tend to think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs but most of the people in nowadays have lack of security. This tend to low fertility rates, lack of interest in the job. The whole generation of rats have grown.

  3. Awesome blog Rik and apparently relevant question when so many people are disengaged. I think individuals have a responsibility to reflect themselves on the ‘why’ if they are disengaged. I work for Shell. I generally have felt very engaged with the company (some periods a bit too much maybe), but also have had periods where I felt a bit less engaged. When I bike around Amsterdam with my kids on each traffic light there are stickers from the ‘Shell must fall’ movement. It made me reflect on a yet again deeper level wondering whether they indeed could possibly have a point and that I was working for the devil. I came to the conclusion I’m not, pretty much for similar reasons Jorge plays out above. Plus, if we want to make this energy transition happen we need to retool our entire energy infrastructure. We’re not going to do that with our hands but will needs loads of hydrocarbons to do so. Now, getting that stuff out of the ground and into a customer usable product at location is incredibly complex and dangerous. To do that safely, reliably and responsibly you need a big bureaucracy with manuals of authority, control frameworks and assurance processes. As a result, not every day I work on new, exciting and entrepreneurial stuff. So yes, there are days that I do feel somewhat disengaged. But I personally think for me that has to do more with the feeling of being a cog in a big machine and hence inherently enjoying more limited autonomy compared to when I would have my own cupcake business. Going back to my point, I think people that feel disengaged should answer the question on why that is the case and act on it. It’s not only the organisation who has the accountability to think about this theme. Disengagement could have multiple reasons. A lack of environmental and people focus could well be one of them. If that is genuinely the main thing that does not sit well, employees can indeed leave and join an environmental NGO. I think however when people dig a bit deeper into what drives the feeling of disengagement in some cases they may find it lies in something more simple such as: do you like your daily activities, do you get energy from the way you work, do you see sufficiently the meaning of your work? And if some of those questions balance to no, what’s your strategy to deal with that? Are you planning to change the way you fill in your job? Do you have the possibility and guts to quit? And if so, what’s gonna be your alternative? These are very tough questions that touch some of your deeper personality. Many people prefer not to confront themselves with them, and instead choose to vaguely point at an external source that causes their feeling of detachement. So Rik, stop asking these complex questions! 😄

    1. Many thanks Paul. What I take from your comment is that you seem to describe conflicting ‘narratives’ (e.g. Shell is good or is bad; my impact in the company is small [meaningless] or meaningful). My next post will explore that role of narratives in our lives.

  4. Thank you for the article. It is thought provoking.
    The altruistic feeling that is common place now with many people is such a hypocritical veil that blinds their better judgment. Companies play along with it obviously creating CSR programs to appease employees and societal feelings while servicing their demands and needs. The actual business, to service the demands of society, goes largely undisturbed in the background. A quick glance at the world’s oil consumption curve quickly removes all doubt that the world needs more oil not less.
    There is nothing wrong with making profits. We all like to collect our salaries at the end of the month, don’t we all. What we don’t like is what has to be done to collect that money. Its very similar to enjoying a good steak, but chastising the butcher or cattle industry. Instead of recognizing that our actions create demand that will be met by a savvy entrepreneur. Or blasting oil companies while enjoying a cement (think how cement is made) house that is nicely heated (gas) with a hot meal (gas and fertilizers) while moving about using steel and plastics (cars, trains, etc. use lots of hydrocarbons to make them).
    If you do not like the company you work for, you are welcome to simply leave and start your own company making cupcakes.

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