Employee disengagement undermining workforce effectiveness

Sep 14 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The continuing failure by organisations to manage people as individuals rather than employees is undermining the effectiveness of the American workforce and leading to widespread employee disengagement.

What's more, according to market information group TNS and The Conference Board, managers are not prepared to effectively meet the major challenges presented by the future American workforce while remaining globally competitive.

Drawing on the results from recent surveys and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they argue that the new American workforce will be one of polarized skill levels, diversity, and disengagement.

Changing demographics combined with the changing needs of American business will create two substantial tests for employers: finding ways to attract, retain and motivate high quality employees regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or occupation; and developing workforce management practices that balance the corporate bottom line with the needs and expectations of a diverse, global workforce.

By 2012, the workforce will also be older, more ethnically diverse, and more female. Employment growth will be polarized and the majority of job opportunities will be the top and bottom of the pay and skill scale but very limited in the middle.

But the greatest threat, the research suggests, is that employee disengagement will result in a largely unproductive workforce.

Four out of 10 of today's employees feel disconnected from their employers, and a quarter show up at work "just for the paycheck." Only one-third of the employees surveyed viewed their management as strong leaders.

As anticipated, workers at the bottom of the pay scale are more likely to be detached than workers at the top, with almost half detached and only one in five motivated.

But far more unexpected is the low level of motivation among the higher paid. Indeed, only a quarter of highly paid workers are motivated about their jobs and a third describe themselves as detached.

"Reversing workplace discontent will require aggressive changes in the way that companies are managed today - including bolstering management skills and developing leadership talent," says Shubhra Ramchandani, general manager of the North American Stakeholder Management Center for TNS.

"First, front-line managers will need to be trained to manage individuals, rather than employees, and second, businesses must develop strong leaders who can attract and re-engage the mainstream American worker."

Among the specific issues that emerged from TNS and Conference Board survey findings was that of fairness, particularly in regard to lower paid workers.

Lower paid workers are motivated by the quality of treatment they receive from their immediate manager, the research suggested, together with fair performance evaluations and compensation.

Women also tend to focus on issues of fairness - in salary, in opportunities for advancement, and in value to the company. Men focus more on the company brand and the performance of the company's leaders.

Higher paid employees, meanwhile, also want prestige and are motivated by recognition for their contributions, the image of their company, career advancement, departmental collaboration and training in new skills.

But these issues will be further compounded by growing shortage of knowledge and experienced workers, including leaders, caused by the aging of the baby-boomer workforce.

Businesses will not only need to develop strategies to develop and retain potential leaders, they will also need to address concerns specific to older workers, including feeling valued, enjoying their jobs and perceiving their employer as competitive.

"In the end, employers might find the most success by returning to the basics - demonstrating how they care about employees as individuals," said Shubhra Ramchandani.