Leading the Disengaged
Posted 10.04.13
Jonathan A. Segal

The Great Recession appears to have taken more than just jobs out of the economy. It has taken the spirit out of many workers.

In June of 2013, a very disturbing poll was released by Gallup.com. Workers were divided into 3 categories: engaged, disengaged and actively disengaged.

According to the poll, 70-percent of American workers are “disengaged.” A full 20-percent describe themselves as “actively disengaged.” Only 30-percent reported feeling “engaged.”

One could read this otherwise: only a 30% approval rating for leadership. While you cannot make everyone happy–indeed you should not try– a 30% approval rating is dangerously low.

The non-engaged may leave you. Employees are beginning to take the “at-will” right very seriously and job hop when they are not happy.

The actively non-engaged may sabotage you. Sadly, some of my clients have experienced this.

Of course, employees also may sue you. People sue people, even if the name of the defendant is an organization

If you want your organization to be productive, your employees cannot be a cabal of  zombies injured and disillusioned by the recent economic contractions. You need them to have passion and commitment.

Gallup’s conclusion:  leaders are responsible for the lack of engagement.  The report states:  “Organizations should coach managers to take an active role in building engagement plans with their employees, hold managers accountable, track their progress and ensure they continually focus on emotionally engaging their employees.”

But how can we as leaders achieve this goal?  How do we inspire emotional connection when many employees feel exploited by the new normal?

There was a song in the 70s by Spiral Staircase that included the lyrics “I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow. “ The theme song for the corporate world today could be:  “I expect more of you today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow.”

Pulling back in terms of our demands is not an option.  The competition, domestic and foreign, has never been more fierce.

So we can’t retreat. We must continue to move forward  but we need more employees to go forward with us as engaged participants.

How do we turn disengaged, often hurt, employees into engaged participants?  How do we make some progress with the actively non-engaged, too?

On October 14, 2013, Lead with Giants will have a tweet cast in which we hopefully can share our experiences and ideas with each other so that we can lead engaged employees who in turn will help keep us engaged.

About Jonathan A. Segal
Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .