Beat the disengagement blues

The holy grail of leadership is highly engaged and motivated employees. The quest, it seems, has some way to go. New Gallup research shows that more than 70 per cent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”, meaning they’re emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive. It’s not just the frontline staff: workers with at least some tertiary education are significantly less likely to be engaged in their jobs. Even relatively prosperous Australia has issues. A new study by Mercer reveals that 40 per cent of Australian employees are considering leaving their jobs, with serious implications for productivity and innovation. “Satisfaction is an output of engagement,” says Mercer’s Rob Bebbington. “The big-ticket items that drive engagement are being respected, quality leadership and communication, feeling a part of the business, making a contribution, and agreeing with the value set the organisation is pursuing.” Harvard professor Teresa Amabile, who’s been researching workplace motivation for more than three decades, says how people feel at work has a direct impact on performance. “When something happens at work, it immediately triggers cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes,” Amabile says. “People’s minds start ‘sense-making’: they try to figure out why the event happened and what its implications are.” Perceptions feed emotions, emotions feed perceptions, and “depending on what happens with these cognitive and emotional processes, motivation can shift, which, in turn, affects how people perform their work”. Develop an esprit de corps, suggests ex-military leadership blogger Don Clark, and allow your team to be part of the planning and problem-solving process. “It motivates them,” Clark says. “People who are part of the decision-making process become the owners of it…it gives them a personal interest in seeing the plan succeed.”

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