Imagine the coolest racing car ever built. And, now, imagine you are the one in charge of its production. You are ambitiously leading a team of mechanics. You have a vivid image of how the finished car will look, feel and drive. It will be unique, something new to the world. And you feel really proud being a part of this project.

You have been assigned a skilled team, and you work around the clock. Every night when you head home, you feel excited. You are eager to get up each morning to continue the work as you surely approach the finish line. There are times, however, when you wonder why you are not advancing at the pace you thought you would. Things you thought were fixed long ago still need a lot of work. What is happening? Is someone sabotaging the project?

Future car

We hate saying it, but there is a sad truth about the state of the workplace today. As we read in Harvard Business Review, “just 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job.” According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report, “50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways, negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away because of poor service.” Gallup estimates that the 20% group alone costs the U.S. economy around half a trillion dollars each year (Blue Ocean Leadership, HBR May 2014).

You might think that European corporations are breathing a sigh of relief, given this being an American study. But – sorry folks – the international Towers Watson  Global Workforce Study from 2013 also supports poor work attitudes in European markets too.

There are a number of interesting aspects here as this is a topic that we at Brainwells explore deeply with our clients on an ongoing basis. But here is a good place to start:

When employees are not committed, you need to know what is going on. While your team is busy developing something, for example that awesome racing car, others are just hanging around, free-riding the project – while a few are actually tearing down what you just built as they are way more than ACTIVELY disengaged. Whether it’s done consciously or not, the result is that everyone has to spend way more resources and energy on a project than what should be expected. And that is a problem. Of course it is.

We work with executives and leaders on a daily basis. What we see is that there are two kinds of leaders: There are leaders that acknowledge the fact that there is a problem and act accordingly. And then there are leaders who either ignore it, or do not take action to change it.

According to The Gallup report, poor leadership IS a key contributing factor in how poorly engaged a work force becomes. Leaders who understand that the challenges in today’s working life require different thinking and different leadership skills will be the winners in tomorrow’s corporate race. It’s all about maximizing the potential of your employees, and this happens through engagement.

Make sure you master this. And if you do not? Listen, it might seem like a tough decision to ask for help now. But it might be even harder to wake up some years into the future and figure out that it is already too late.


Questions to reflect upon:

Here are a few questions for you to reflect upon. Please feel free to comment. Together we are a well of knowledge, and your input is valuable for all.

  • If you are part of a team, whatever size, do you know who is engaged and who is not?
  • Do you ever think about what impact the disengaged ones have on the ones who are engaged?
  • If you are a leader, are you conscious about the direct impact you have on engagement?
  • If you are an employee, do you reflect upon your own engagement now and then?