Disengagement at work linked to poor health, stress
25 February 2009 8:25am
Actively disengaged workers are disproportionately likely to stay with their current employer and take double the sick leave of their engaged workmates, a Gallup Consulting survey has found.
Gallup's study of 1000 Australian workers late last year found only 18 per cent are engaged - characterised by working with passion and feeling a "profound" connection to their company - down from 21 per cent in 2006.
Some 61 per cent are "not engaged" (essentially "checked out", sleepwalking through their jobs and putting time - but not energy or passion - into their work), which is unchanged from two years earlier, while the proportion of "actively disengaged" workers (those who aren't just unhappy but are acting out their unhappiness and undermining their colleagues' work) has grown from 18 per cent to 21 per cent.
By profession, workers at the manager/executive/official level are most likely to be engaged (25%), followed by service workers (including police, fire fighters, wait staff and nurses aides - 22%). But the latter are the most likely to be actively disengaged (25%).
The most experienced workers (10-15 years' tenure) have the lowest number engaged (6%). Engagement levels are highest among workers with one-to-three years' service with their employer (22%).
Engaged workers, Gallup reports, are most likely to agree that their supervisor:
focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics (75%);
creates an environment that is trusting and open (73%);
actively supports any changes that affect their work group (75%); and
inspires them to do more than they thought they could.
Engaged workers are also the most likely to recommend their company's products (78%, versus 17% of disengaged workers); recommend their company as a place to work (70% versus 7%) and work to their full potential (67% versus 22%).
Disengaged employees around for the long haul
Worryingly for employers, close to half (45%) of the disengaged employees surveyed plan to stay with their current employer for at least a year, while a quarter (24%) intend to spend the remainder of their career with the company.
Despite this, only 11 per cent of disengaged workers feel they have grown in their ability to positively affect customers, and just seven per cent feel their job brings out their most creative ideas.
Disengaged workers say they spend 73 per cent of their work time productively, compared to 84 per cent for engaged workers.
Disengaged workers more sick, stressed
The study found that disengagement has consequences outside the workplace.
Actively disengaged workers are more than twice as likely as their engaged counterparts to have had three or more days in the past month where stress at work has caused them to behave poorly with their family or friends (43% versus 20%).
Disengaged workers are also more likely to suffer diagnosed health problems:
16 per cent have problems that prevent their participation in normal activities (compared to 12% of engaged workers);
36 per cent report high blood pressure (compared to 25%);
30 per cent have high cholesterol (21%);
17 per cent suffer depression (9%); and
13 per cent experience asthma (10%).
Sick leave is also higher among actively disengaged workers, with this group taking, on average, six days more leave in the past year (10.54 versus 4.19) - four of which were attributed to sickness.
Australia ranks in the middle of the seven countries surveyed on both engagement and disengagement, with countries including India and the US (both 30%), and New Zealand (23%) reporting a higher number of engaged workers, while disengagement is higher in the UK (24%) and Japan (23%).
Capitalise on "engageable moments"
Gallup's findings are backed up by Watson Wyatt's recently released 2008/2009 WorkUSA Report, which says employers with highly engaged workers enjoy 26 per cent higher productivity, and 13 per cent greater returns.
Highly engaged employees are twice as likely as their less engaged peers to be top performers, and three-quarters of them exceeded expectations in their most recent performance review, the researchers say.
The report suggests specific actions to increase engagement and productivity:
capitalise on "engageable moments" - these moments occur during programs such as onboarding, performance management, or when the organisation goes through particularly challenging times, the report says. Engagement tapers through an employees' career (dropping by 9% in the first year alone), but "while some decline is inevitable, companies that identify and take action around engageable moments can minimise or potentially even reverse the decline";
demonstrate strong leadership and clear direction - "When times are difficult, employees want to know about their organisation's specific plans and progress. Decisive action backed by clearly articulated rationale can build support for corporate initiatives, particularly when individual performance objectives and rewards are tied to corporate objectives";
manage organisational change with effective communication - "Effective communication from senior management directly connects employees to the purpose of the organisation. This is particularly important in a challenging economy, when employees are anxious to learn the rationale behind decisions. Reviewing communication processes to ensure that information flows vertically as well as horizontally throughout the organisation is an important step to employee engagement";
emphasise customer focus - "In difficult times, employees are aware that job security is strengthened by satisfied customers. Emphasising customer satisfaction keeps employees from being too internally focused and provides a common direction to move the organisation forward";
institute and communicate a system of equitable rewards - "While it may be necessary to cut back on rewards, organisations need to understand which reward programs are most important to engage their critical employee segments. Changes to rewards need to be communicated in a way that is consistent with delivering on the employment 'deal'. Employees who indicate their organisation effectively delivers on the employment deal are 20 times as likely to be highly engaged and 50 percent more likely to be top performers"; and
invest in the core - "The key to driving productivity gains is increasing engagement among core contributors, who represent 60 per cent of the typical workforce. Highly engaged employees are already working at or near their peak but are often limited by their less engaged co-workers. Focusing on engaging core contributors can improve both groups' productivity."
If you have some HR news to share or would like to suggest a topic for an article, click here to email the editor.