How the Bleep Did Workers Get So Disengaged?

Thirteen percent global employee engagement isn't a business problem – it is a tragedy. If 87 percent of the world's workforce is disengaged at work, consider the malaise that is passed on to consumers, to families, and to children. Consider how little effort must go toward solving the problems within our communities and the world.

That being said, it is hard to fully understand the situation at hand unless we study the past and uncover the dynamics that have contributed to the present. Almost all of us are impacted by the history of work and the series of events that turned that world of work upside down.

The Days if 'Survival and Predictability' Are Gone

Approximately 250 years ago, the Industrial Revolution was born in London, and it swept across the world as a tidal wave of change. The revolution developed a voracious thirst for workers; industry can't run without laborers.

A recruitment pitch was needed – and it was a good one: "If you run a cobbler shop, grow vegetables, or work on a field or a farm, you no longer have to worry about economic uncertainty or the weather. Join our factory, and we will give you survival and predictability."

Captains of industry, educational institutions, and political and religious leaders worked together to generate a workforce using that recruitment pitch. As a result, by the end of the 20th century, most families saw predictability and survival as the determining factors behind all career and educational strategies. Only the most visionary parents offered options.

This talent machine hummed along through about ten generations of families. Each set of parents conditioned their offspring to fit into roles that all but guaranteed predictability and survival. During this era, we were conditioned to believe there was something wrong with fear. Instead of taking action, we embraced the "fight or flight" mentality.

During the last twenty-five years of the 20th century, however, this risk-averse culture was hit with a series of events that effectively torpedoed survival and predictability. By the year 2000, almost anyone with a job had directly experienced the reality of becoming expendable. It seems we were too busy to declare a new game or define new rules. The loss of predictability and survival introduced toxic levels of distrust, cynicism, contempt, and resignation to the world's workforce.

Many people asked, "When will it end?"

It did not end. It sped up.

Ever-growing waves of change made entire categories of work obsolete. Nowadays, coworkers are often gone in the blink of an eye. We are frenzied just trying to keep up with the technological and organizational changes occurring around us.

Even our political leaders are afraid to tell us the truth. Instead, they promise new jobs, blame outsourcing, and patronize us with the idea that we can return to the past. All of this comes at the very time we need to be telling anyone who works to learn how to reinvent and how to change. Prior to taking these very basic steps, how can we possibly expect anyone to be engaged at work?

This is how the bleep we got here.

Adopt a Growth Mindset to Get Re-Engaged

Entry into the new Oz requires that we trade in our fixation with predictability and survival for a focus on growth.


In this world, we build our futures through continual learning, through the curious pursuit of change, and through our willingness to reinvent ourselves on an ongoing basis. The most-skilled change agents are those who make new versions of themselves as fluidly as giving a two-year-old Tesla a software update.

For workers still pining for a return to the past, this is a terrifying prospect.

But for those of us who are looking for the best life has to offer, growth and learning are exciting prospects indeed.

David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.