Disengaged workers costing the U.S. $billions

Canada likely suffering same problem.
By Laura Cassiani
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/03/2001

Unhappy workers — those who are “actively disengaged” — are costing American employers billions of dollars a year, according to a recent survey by the Gallup organization.

About 19 per cent of American employees say they are actively disengaged from their work. That disinterest is costing U.S. firms about $300 billion in lost productivity annually. James Harter, senior research director in Gallup’s Nebraska office and author of the report The Cost of Disengaged Workers, says the same scenario is likely taking place in Canadian organizations.

“We find the averages are very comparable and we find the same kind of ranges in the surveys,” says Harter.

Gallup surveyed 1,000 American employees asking 12 questions related directly to their work, including:

•Is there someone at work who encourages your development?

•Do your opinions seem to count?

•Does the mission or purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?

•Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?

Harter says the 19 per cent of “actively disengaged” workers are less loyal, are away from work more often, report higher stress levels and lower life satisfaction, and are less likely to recommend the organization to others who are looking for work.

According to the report, actively disengaged workers miss about four more working days a year than other employees, when compared to employees on the other end of the spectrum. Actively disengaged workers in the U.S. collectively miss roughly 150 million days annually.

Perhaps more startling, and of more concern to employers, is the report’s finding that the majority of workers surveyed — 55 per cent — fell into the “not engaged” category.

Harter says these employees, as opposed to the actively disengaged, are more likely to stay with their current employer for their entire careers.

“The big difference is that the actively disengaged are looking for other employment opportunities while those who are not engaged are staying. It’s all a matter of degree.”

While not all employees can be turned around, the report estimates that efforts on the part of managers to deal with unhappy workers could boost productivity by $79 billion a year.

So what can managers do to bring disengaged workers back? Harter says managers play a vital role in maintaining a workplace climate where employees feel appreciated and where they see opportunities to grow.

One organization that participated in the survey showed a dramatic improvement in its scoring compared to the previous year’s survey. And, Harter says, it was due to the change in management within a number of that organization’s units.

“It really does start with the managers,” he says.

Employees must be encouraged to provide feedback about their work situations.

“This creates dialogue around performance and it allows the managers to learn more about how their employees are feeling and more about the organization’s business goals,” says Harter.

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