Americans are Not Engaged at Work – We Can Change That

“The single biggest decision you make in your job – bigger than all the rest – is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits – nothing.”

Those are the words of Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton in reference to the polling company’s recent state of the American workplace report that found 70 percent of American workers are not engaged at work. And 20 percent of those are actively disengaged. Translation: they hate their jobs.

Why? The report seems to suggest that it’s partly due to bad managers. It adds to a growing body of evidence that a tyrannical, “my way or the highway” style of leadership just isn’t working in today’s workplace.

If 70 percent is any indication of how our employees feel about their work, we’re in trouble. The Gallup reports suggests the actively disengaged are costing businesses $450 to $550 billion a year. On the flip side, the best managed people have less accidents, produce better quality work and even incur less health care costs than the worst managed. It’s stressful to hate your job and stress leads to health problems.

As CEOs and leaders of organizations, it’s time we take responsibility for this situation. Because we’re the ones who can turn it around.


The first thing we have to do as leaders is understand every employee is different. They work differently, they’re motivated differently and they’re all going to react differently to the personality of their managers.

I believe in flexing.

By this I mean adapting your style of leadership to the employee and his or her skill set, not the other way around. Some employees will work harder when you’re harsh on them, others (and I think this is becoming more and more the case today) need encouragement and motivation.

Either way, don’t let your employees just flounder until you have no choice but to fire them.

Have conversations, figure out if they accomplish more when they work autonomously or if they want more direction. Are they self-confident or do they need a bit more recognition?

Some will have the necessary skills, just not the confidence and experience to make the best use of those skills. That’s where leaders can step in and make them feel good about what they’re doing.

Send It Down the Line

Your next job is choosing managers who also understand how to flex. It won’t have an impact if you’re the only one doing it.

Managers need training too. Make sure they’re working to understand the strengths and personalities of their team members, giving their employees the best chance to succeed.

Your managers are the ones who are going to know on a daily basis if your company’s employees are engaged. Are they passionate, or at least enthusiastic about their work?

A direct manager can make all the difference. Not everyone loves their work, but if they like and respect the person they work for they’re going to be more engaged and care more about what they do.

Willing Employees  

Yes, employees too have to do their part to put forth the effort to engage. This will happen much easier if they’re getting their direction from someone who treats them as an individual and emphasizes their strengths.

Surely if 70 percent of workers are not engaged with their jobs, there’s a chunk of those people who just aren’t in the right positions or aren’t willing to do what’s asked of them.

However, I believe most people want to do a good job – they feel better about themselves and their work when they’re interested to see what’s going to happen the next day, not dreading getting up in the morning.

When you’re at the top of an organization, you’re the catalyst for setting the tone that makes people excited about their work. We need to redirect our energies as leaders to engaging with our employees, finding out what makes them tick and then adapting. I believe, in return, they’ll engage with us and our businesses.

Andy Roe is the General Manager of SurePayroll, Inc., a Paychex Company. SurePayroll is the trusted provider of easy online payroll services to small businesses nationwide. SurePayroll compiles data from small businesses nationwide through its Small Business Scorecard optimism survey, and exclusively reflects the trends affecting the nation's “micro businesses” — those with1-10 employees. You can follow Andy on Twitter @AndrewSRoe.

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