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Most of your workforce will never be engaged

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

by Dan Gregory & Kieran Flanagan

disengaged workersDespite all of our in-house engagement programs, mentoring retreats and conferences hosted by professional motivators, according to Gallup’s Global Workplace Engagement Survey, employee engagement today stands at roughly less than 50%. Active disengagement is close to 20%.

Now we know what you’re thinking, “Not our team, Dan and Kieran, they’re awesome. We managed to scoop only the cream off the top. Trust us, there is no dead wood in our corporate tree.”

The problem with this kind of thinking, other than the mixed metaphors, is that it indicates a disconnection with reality. The truth is, the larger your organization, the greater the size of your marketplace, and the more those numbers start to become statistically relevant to your business.

The standard approach to this problem is the same approach most businesses use to reconnect with disengaged customers—we try to sell to them. Now this strategy seems logical. However, part of the reason such measures can fail in the long term is the same reason things like discipline and motivation fade in our personal lives—they only work as short-term strategies.

Managers and career driven Type-A personalities are regularly surprised that other people aren’t as obsessed by their work as they are, when the truth is, for a lot of employees, a job is just a job. Employees think: “You can keep your vision and mission statements and ease up on trying to make your WHY, my WHY!” Many people work only to pay the bills, support their families and to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Here’s the thing … that’s OK.

But it means we need to change our conception of what workplace motivation looks like and how we get disengaged staff to perform as if they are engaged.

In the long run, design beats discipline. In other words, if we want to lift performance regardless of engagement levels, we need to become better at designing work that is intuitively suited to human nature. That means making the way we want people to behave easier, simpler and more accessible, and creating fewer barriers and less friction between our people.

For too long, we’ve treated human beings like machines that are to be programmed to do what we want in the way that we want. A better approach, we believe, is to design the environments and processes within our organizations so that performance is, if not automatic, then certainly natural.


Dan Gregory & Kieran Flanagan are behavioral researchers and strategists, specializing in behaviors and belief systems – what drives, motivates and influences us. Published by WILEY, Dan and Kieran’s new book Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available in paperback RRP $22.95 from

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