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But this figure represents more than a business problem. It's a tragedy.
The "Great Disengagement" destroys customer relationships, kills patients, comes home to our children, and infects the thinking of our youth. Disengagement is closely linked to the scourge of America's modern economy – underemployment. According to research from PayScale, 46 percent of American workers are underemployed. These workers feel underutilized, like they are working beneath their income capacities. Without an intervention, these numbers will only grow.
As I conducted research for my book, The Workplace Engagement Solution, it became clear that employee disengagement doesn't simply result from mediocre or bad management. On a much bigger scale, disengagement represents the fact that workers at all levels lack the skills to reinvent themselves. When humans don't have a clear incentive to change, we don't. Certainly, we don't change enough to thrive.
In the last 10 years, the world of work has changed, but many of us were so caught up in the recession and its aftereffects that we failed to notice the transformation. Many employers continue to use obsolete instruments like employee surveys tackle the engagement problem, but they are doing nothing to show their employees how to change and engage.
I know people have the capacity to change. At Inspired Work, we've been creating engagement with people in their own lives and careers for 27 years. We do this by helping people connect with their own truths in disciplined and safe ways. We also show people how to fulfill their ambitions by learning new life skills that were absolutely unnecessary in the old world of work.
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Let's examine the obvious. If only 13 percent of the world's workers are engaged, only category leaders can attract enough engaged workers to run an organization. Not only is it realistic to build engaged workers, but it is also doable and deeply rewarding for all involved.
My greatest concern about the disengagement and underemployment problem is that it is a symptom of the growing chasm between the traditional task worker and accelerating change. Right now, robotics, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, smart filters, and virtual reality are speeding toward the workplace. We need a wake-up call if we're to meet the challenges of these new technologies.
Don't expect this call to come from our political leaders! Businesses and large organizations are doing a better job of effecting positive change. Consequently, teaching all of our employees how to change is not only beneficial to productivity and retention, but also a means of solving an urgent social problem.
Lest anyone think I'm being alarmist, consider the following points:
Truck driving employs more than 3.5 million people in the U.S. Self-driving trucks will soon prove to be a safer, more economical alternative to human drivers.
3-D printing is now sophisticated enough to supply working parts for fighter jets. The growth of this technology will turn shipping, distribution, and assembly lines on their heads.
Human resources is quickly outsourcing task-driven work to software and technology. Now, everyone who hopes to have a future in the field needs to become a high-level strategist.
Those of us who view the world of work through the lens of the Industrial Revolution see the loss of predictability and survival and not much else. For those of us who learn the skills of change, however, the future is abundant and filled with opportunity. How dare we tell our children they will not have the degree of abundance we had? That belief is based only in looking backward.
Employers play a tremendous role in our future! Retooling our talent and our culture will take vision and, above all, courage. Changing ourselves will require the best of our humanity, our humility, and our resourcefulness. Developing cultures that actively build engaged workforces necessitates courageous action on good and bad days, in wonderful and terrible markets. We will be required to demonstrate a level of vision that rises far above the quarterly spreadsheet and looks several years ahead instead.
If you have extended the honor and expense of hiring someone into your company, investing in that person's greatness will only increase the innate value of your decision. Building a mentor-driven, high-standard, radically compassionate, connected, and open culture will lead to less house-cleaning and more exciting opportunities.
Can such organizations save lives? Absolutely.
Will such organizations become category leaders? Of course they will.
Actually, they will accomplish far more. They will build new economies. They will build a future devoid of patronizing promises and guided by a courageous vision of what we have earned through our hard work.
David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.