What’s Wrong With Your Employees?

Do your employees seem a little—well, lackluster—lately? Have you noticed they just don’t seem to have the enthusiasm they used to? It’s not just your imagination. A recent Gallup poll found that 71 percent of American workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from their work. Just 30 percent are “engaged,” or involved in and enthusiastic about their jobs.

stressed employee

What’s most interesting about this study to me is that the very workers you might expect to be most engaged are least so. Gallup found that:

  • Workers with some college education are significantly less likely to be engaged at work than are employees with a high school diploma or less;
  • Workers aged 30 to 64 are less likely to be engaged in their jobs than those who are younger or older;
  • Men are far less likely to be engaged at work than women.

In other words, the employees who have the most challenging and interesting jobs and are at the peak of their career development and earning power (the 30-to-64-year-olds) are the least engaged. And, while stereotypes often paint female employees as distracted by the demands of home and children, apparently it’s men who are less likely to be focused on work.

What gives? Another study sheds some light on the problem. A survey of more than 10,000 employees by consulting firm Towers Watson reported by CFO.com found that work-related stress was the number-one reason employees cited for leaving a job. In contrast, HR professionals surveyed thought that employees were most likely to leave because of chances for promotion.

These results show a big disconnect between what management believes and what employees feel. Even though 65 percent of HR personnel admitted that employees at their companies had been working longer hours than usual for the past 3 years, and 53 percent predicted that trend would continue over the next 3 years, they didn’t pinpoint increased stress from longer hours as a key cause of quitting.

Just as in the Gallup poll, Towers Watson found it was the higher-level employees who were feeling the most stress. Fifty-seven percent of senior-level and management employees agreed that employees are working longer hours, compared with just 37 percent of administrative, clerical and manual workers.

Your employees are working longer hours—and will be for the forseeable future—you need to take some steps to ensure they don’t burn out. Disengaged employees cost you in productivity, and they cost you even more when they leave and need to be replaced. If you’re not concerned that the toughest employees to replace are the most likely to bail on you (whether physically or mentally), you should be.

What can you do? The biggest risk is sticking your head in the sand. Don’t be oblivious and assume if your employees are putting in their time that their hearts are in it. In a small business, there’s no excuse for not “managing by walking around.” Find out what’s eating your team, and figure out how you can make changes to re-inspire and re-energize them so they can contribute their fullest to your business.

Chances are the changes will re-energize you, too—and since we small business owners are all working longer and harder, I bet you could use a jolt of electricity.


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

11 Reactions
  1. Employees and employee satisfaction have severely suffered throughout this recession. The attitude of “you should be grateful to even have a job” is prevalant and I can imagine that having a serious effect on said employees productivity levels and moral.

  2. Very interesting article and it’s certainly very true that working extra hours can create work-related stress but what about if these extra hours are being worked because there is a genuine fear of redundancy in these uncertain times. Staff fears may be overlooked and (in the words of Dr Evil in the Austin Power films) you have to “throw a frickin bone” sometimes.

  3. I agree. There’s a lot of fear among employees. That’s why you should make sure you keep them informed. And I also believe in throwing people a bone sometimes. In the end, you end up with more secure, productive employees.

  4. Social Networking Design

    Thanks Rieva for sharing the stats.I feel that beside all these there may be certain issues like salary, security, working environment or an other source of motivation which hinders their performance.Each employee have different priorities as well.

  5. You’re absolutely right that everyone has individual motivations. But 71 percent is such a high number of disengagement that business owners need to look at it on both a global and individual level.

  6. Any business no matter what size are run by employees which is called your “operation” the mood of your employees will affect the “finacial” side the two fit “like a glove” many companies don’t get this. The mood of your employees comes from the top “management” if a manager does not know how to manage their employees lives beyond the work place then you will hurt your bottom line profits. Example if a manager overworks or schedules employees on their terms you will lose that employee which the cost of training is higher then keeping a good one. 2) If an employee is given to much work then they are not focusing on excellence in any area which is low in productivity and creates loss of revenue. 3) If a manager is not helping or concered about an employees home life or their own goals then an employee will not be as concered with your need. Treating your employees like kings and queens making sure they have a great family life and are getting proper sleep and feel healthy will bring in ultimate profits!

  7. Thank you Rieva for bringing this to the forefront of business owners’ minds. I just completed my executive education certificate and the main topic of the leadership and management course revolved around the value of the employees you already have. The numbers of ways that are not monetary which can motivate and inspire a team are amazing, but most importantly they are necessary now more than ever. I heard one of the contributors say that the head of marketing sent out a single email to the entire department and asked for their ideas on places where they would like to see changes made. He then called in each one of them in advance to give them a 10 minute conversation to discuss their elevator pitch of their ideas which took the better part of a day. The buy-in he got was “amazing” in his words. I really appreciate your post!

  8. Peace translates to dollars. The 2010 Global Peace Index found that a 25% reduction in global violence due to stress would free up $1.8 trillion USD annually.

    That’s a motivator for tactics such as 2 minute solutions. We taught one company to meditate in 2 minutes and their bottom line improved by 38%.

  9. Rieva — fascinating article. I have been remarking lately that it is curious that there is so little in the press about the non-financial fallout from the recession. Your article is one of the first that I have seen about this.

  10. Thank you for these interesting facts. And they all make sense. I can imagine why a worker on the peak of his or her career may be more disengaged than a struggler who has a high school diploma and is set to achieve everything the corporate world has to offer them. Truly fascinating.