Oct 22, 2018
The most recent Gallup Poll of the State of the American Workforce, a survey of more than 195,600 workers, found that only 33% are actively engaged, 16% are actively disengaged, and 51% are simply not engaged. Engaged workers are highly involved, enthusiastic and energized about their work and workplace. Not-engaged workers are emotionally unattached to their work or workplace and not energized about their work. Actively disengaged workers tend to be unhappy, resentful and counterproductive.
I found this to be absolutely startling but also a tremendous opportunity to improve not just health and safety results but also other critical business outputs. I first became interested in transformational leadership and the topic of engaging the workforce in 2010 when the Gallup Poll showed 28% engaged, 19% counterproductive and 53% not engaged. Looking at Gallup’s data over the past several years the numbers vary but on average seem to be about 30% engaged, 20% actively disengaged and 50% not engaged.
A 2016 Gallup survey found that engaged workforces had 41% lower absenteeism, 59% lower turnover, 17% higher productivity and 70% fewer safety incidents. The Gallup survey found that, “engaged employees become emotionally and psychologically attached to their work and workplace. As a result, their individual performance soars, and they propel their team and organization to improved crucial outcomes such as higher levels of productivity, safety and quality.” Specific to safety they found, “Engaged workers are more mindful of their surroundings, more aware of the safety procedures and diligent about keeping their coworkers protected.”
Gallup’s comprehensive survey of the workforce presents a convincing argument for increasing the number of engaged workers in the workplace. But how is that accomplished? The simplest answer is getting their heads and heart in the game. This is best accomplished by establishing a mutual self-interest (MSI) between the employee and the employer. This requires a transformation in the leadership of the organization, be it a for-profit or nonprofit, understanding the need to become more transformational and less transactional.
A transactional leader tends to be focused on the output, not those creating the output, while a transformational leader focuses on both the output and those producing the output. In other words, a transformational leader focuses not just on the work but also the worker. Not surprising, senior leadership tends to be skewed to the transactional side of the scale. Enlightened leadership recognizes the importance of becoming more transformational in their leadership style.
It is helpful at this time to say a few words about work systems. I had the privilege to work in a company that saw the importance of putting high-performance work systems in place. A high-performance work system is all about engaging the workforce in the entire work process, including such critical areas as cost, quality, production and safety.
I’ve chosen to simplify the concept of work systems using two simple stick figures, as shown in Figure 1 below. The figure on the left describes a traditional work system that will yield about average or below average results. The worker is not engaged and in fact could be actively disengaged. The figure on the right describes a high-performance work system that will yield well above average to excellent results. What’s the difference? Getting the workers’ head and heart into the game, or in other words getting the workers to become engaged in the work process and/or creating mutual self-interest.