Where Am I Actually Disengaged, in Your World or Mine?

I have read quite a bit lately about the very high percentage of people, across the globe, who report being disengaged at work.  A recent McKinsey study of millions of employees confirms this finding–most people are not engaged at work.

This does not make sense to me.  I experience that Homo lumens is always generating creativity, somewhere.  Maybe it is not that people are disengaged at work, rather, as Prof. Ellen Langer suggests, they are “otherwise engaged.”  They are engaged, just not with what the leader wants.

What if the experience of being disengaged is living in an external reality that is simply different from your internal reality.  While you might be disengaged in the external reality others observe, you are highly engaged within your internal reality.  There are plenty of passionate, creative ideas flowing within you all of the time, in your engaged inner reality.  The “problem” is that you do not share this creativity in the external reality, for whatever reason that disengages you.

If this possibility makes sense to you, then the question for leaders might not be about how to engage employees, as they are already engaged.  People don’t need to be engaged or motivated, they already are.  The question then becomes how to release the engagement people already have in their internal reality into their engagement in their external reality.

If people are already and always highly engaged, in their internal reality, then maybe leadership focus should be more on how to stop disengaging people.  This shifts the effort from trying to energize automatons to working with the creativity that is already there.  It is not surprising to find, as in the Gallup and McKinsey studies, that the companies with disengaged people also have disengaging practices, with underlying agreement structures that promote low relatedness. Our own vibrancy survey confirms this.  An antidote would be to work with agreement structures that promote higher relatedness.  Higher relatedness with the people that you hired in the first place.

Not Being Engaged at Work Until November 12 — Dissolving the Disengaged Paradox

Yet another report from Gallup highlights how deeply disengaged people are in the work environment.  Gallup’s previous research in 195 countries showed that 87% of people in the workforce are either unengaged or actively disengaged.  That’s like not being engaged at work from January 1 to November 12, and only engaged from November 12 to December 31.

A recent report shows that only”35% of U.S. Managers are Engaged in Their Jobs.”  So, not only are employees rarely engaged, the managers are also.  Not good.  Gallup estimates the cost of not engaged and actively disengaged managers at US$319-398 billion per year.  That is the annual GDP of South Africa or Denmark, two of the 35 highest national GDPs in the world.

What’s happening here?  Why are so many people showing up to work disengaged?  Why are they so bored and silent?  What happens when you lop off or collapse human beingness?  When you treat people as resources and not creative beings?  Why would we do this to ourselves?  There is a lot of wisdom that addresses these questions in the research I point at in other blogposts.  And, I wonder if it might be as simple as a paradox between what we experience and what we think.

What we experience.  In our survey-based research at the Institute for Strategic Clarity of 2400 responses from 92 countries and field-based research with 77 groups, we find that people relate to their daily experiences through the vibrancy they feel simultaneously in five primary relationships (to their own self, the other, the group, nature, and spirit).  We find that everyone prefers energy-enhancing experiences, where they are engaged, to energy-depleting experiences, where they are disengaged.  That seems obvious.  In the survey research and field research, people also report that when they are engaged they experience higher vibrancy in their own creativity and development, the support from others, the appreciation from the group of their unique contribution, the excitement in seeing new possibilities and how to manifest them collaboratively, and the direct experience of high creativity in everyone.  Electrifying.  We seem to experience ourselves as creative, social beings who want to bring out our best, and that we experience greater energy flowing through us when we do.

What we think.  In most groups, according to the Gallup study and our own research, people are seen as resources, as interchangeable, replaceable units of work.  While theoretically seeing people as resources does not mean that they are not appreciated for their creativity (e.g., intellectual capital and social capital), in practice organizations tend to contract people into their ability to deliver to a job description.  As Mr. Waturi said in the Tom Hanks movie Joe Versus the Volcano, “I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?”  The focus is on doing the job, not on who the person is.

Thus, the paradox. We experience ourselves as creative, social individuals.  We think of people as contracted resources.  The first wants to be plugged into the seemingly infinite potential energy of the universe of creativity.  The second is disengaged for the greater part of most organizational experiences.  How do we resolve the paradox?  Is it possible to resolve the paradox?  Our research has found thousands of groups that prove it is possible to dissolve the paradox, to make it go away.  By knowing that people bring infinite potential and creativity to everything they do, these groups both experience people that way and think about them that way.  Both and.  No paradox.