Getting to the heart of the disengagement gap


As another survey suggests that over a third of the workforce is disengaged and unsure how they can make a positive contribution, perhaps it's time to look a bit more closely at exactly what this means and what employers can do about it.

A poll of 14,000 employees across 10 European countries by consultants Watson Wyatt has confirmed what a number of similar large-scale surveys have been suggesting over the past few years - namely that there is a vast reserve of untapped potential in the workplace in the form uncommitted or actively disgruntled staff.

It also revealed that more than four out of 10 are actively considering leaving their current employer.

But whereas a 2007 poll of almost 90,000 workers by workplace consultancy Towers Perrin found that just a fifth felt engaged with their work, Watson Wyatt found that only 13 per cent – fewer than one in seven – displayed both strong commitment as well as having a good understanding of the part they could play in making their organisations successful - an understanding Watson Wyatt term "line of sight".

It is this combination of commitment and focus – rather than a simple label of engaged or disengaged – that forms the basis of five categories coined by Watson Wyatt to describe individuals' contribution and effectiveness within their organisations.

According to the firm, segmenting a company's workforce in this way enables it to understand its people management issues and consequently focus resources that retain the right people and increase their performance.

That desirable 13 per cent who score highly for both commitment and line of sight are "value creators" who are significantly more likely to be the top performers who contribute substantially to organisational success.

In contrast, a far larger proportion of employees - some 36 per cent - score poorly for commitment and/or line of sight. Yet rather than being lumped together as "disengaged", these can be further divided into three similar sized groups.

Around one in 10 score badly on both counts. Generally the lowest-performing employees, they are often cynical and disgruntled with corrosive attitudes that can quickly affect their colleagues.

These are classically 'disengaged' individuals, Watson Wyatt argue, whose poor performance, if left unchallenged, will affect everyone in an organisation.

Then there are "aligned sceptics" who score high or medium for line of sight but have low commitment. While these are individuals that companies are at most risk of losing, they are not yet a lost cause and can be re-engaged and enthused with the right handling and development.

The "lost believers" are those employees who are reasonably committed but have poor line of sight. These provide different challenges to employers. While they are unlikely to leave, their weak line of sight leads to weak performance. With them the focus needs to be on developing their focus and direction to enable them to understand what they can do to make a successful contribution.

That leaves the remaining half of the workforce who Watson Wyatt characterise as "core contributors" – individuals who are either medium scorers for commitment but high scorers for line of sight, high scorers for line of sight but medium for commitment, or medium on both counts.

"There are excellent opportunities for substantial gains in engagement with this group of employees," said Andrew Cocks, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt.

"A large proportion have relatively high commitment levels but do not have the line of sight that characterises value creators."

Since this is also the group with the most potential for improvement, they also merit the most attention from employers, he added. And by moving medium-engagement employees up in terms of individual performance, organisations can reduce their recruitment and retention costs.

"Programmes that improve line of sight could pay off handsomely, transforming at least some of these employees into value creators and allowing the company to benefit from their improved individual performance," he concluded.


Older Comments

All this data is unsurprising. Unsurprising because low or no engagement for most is just a natural outcome from our top-down command and control approach to managing people.

Top-down by its nature demeans, disrespects and demotivates employees. Employees are motivated in their private lives but are encouraged to be demotivated at work. There are a whole bunch of reasons why this approach decreases individual productivity by 80% on average and they are very easy to understand, not rocket science.

I know because I used the top-down approach for 12 years but managed to escape it with the help of two revelations. Read an interview of me to find out how I did it by googling 'simonton interview extensor'.

Best regards, Ben Author 'Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed'

Ben Simonton

This is a real challenge for technical professionals. The skills of engagement are typically outside of their skill sets. This becomes a real problem when they become managers. They have little or no training on how to energize the workforce.

frank swiatek