Overcoming the Employee Engagement Crisis by Engaging the Heart

Disengaged Employees

[Note: This article was published 3/10/2016 in the Huffington Post]

Worldwide, only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged, according to a January 2016 Gallup report. This is shocking because it means that nearly 9 out of 10 people are unhappy or even completely disengaged at work, which has significant negative consequences for employees, organizations and for society as a whole.

For employees, suffering at work can lead to increased depression and substance abuse, and may also affect their relationships. For organizations, lack of employee engagement negatively affects quality, productivity, customer satisfaction and financial outcomes. And for our society as a whole, the employee engagement crisis causes higher healthcare costs and a lower performing economy.

For these reasons, organizational leaders have repeatedly tried to improve employee engagement, but looking at the statistics, these efforts have had little or no effect. Researchers have been asking themselves why these employee engagement efforts have failed.

I believe a major cause of these failing efforts is that they are all too often focused on extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivation has been shown to be much more powerful and sustainable. On one hand, Extrinsic motivators, such as salary or a bonus, might make people show up at work on time and stay in a job, whether they have passion for their work or not. Intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, engage the heart and have people actually looking forward to and being totally absorbed in their work. In these instances, people feel fulfilled and perform at their best. We all recognize the difference in motivation when we are served by a client representative of a company. While one person might mechanically process our request, another one — without even being asked — goes out of his or her way to solve our problems.

Why is it so hard to achieve more intrinsic motivation at our work places? One reason might be that, according to Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” we seek to fulfill our basic needs before we pursue our higher needs and aspirations. For many people, fulfilling their basic needs means showing up and staying in a job they hate. However, it’s the pursuit of our higher needs, such as achieving personal growth or making meaningful contributions, that motivates us intrinsically. By pursuing personal growth and purpose in our work, we become more engaged, perform better and earn higher incomes. In return, higher income then allows us to worry less about our basic needs and give us more autonomy to focus even more on personal growth and meaningful contributions.   

At the recent DisruptHR event in Atlanta, I presented the Boomerang Approach as a solution for people who are unhappy or disengaged in their jobs. In this short DisruptHR video (5 min), I share how employers can help employees align their work with their passion, purpose and strengths. Employers will maximize engagement and unleash their employees’ potential by collaborating with employees to design their roles in this way.

I invite you to share your questions and insights about your own experiences with motivating and engaging employees. For more information about my book, The Boomerang Approach, please follow this link: 

Link to the original 3/10/2016 article posted on the Huffington Post: