Addressing Rampant Employee Disengagement: Focus on Individuals' Unique Assets

By Wilson, Trevor | Public Management, January-February 2014 | Go to article overview

Addressing Rampant Employee Disengagement: Focus on Individuals' Unique Assets


Wilson, Trevor, Public Management


An alarming Gallup poll published in 2013 titled State of the American Workplace Report (www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/ state-american-workplace.aspx) indicated that most American workers either hate their jobs or don't care one way or the other about them. Less than a third of Americans are actively engaged in their work, meaning they're passionate about it, enthusiastic, and energetic. They're consistently productive and high performing.

Gallup estimates the some 20 million who are actively disengaged--openly negative and unhappy--have a staggering effect on the economy, possibly costing the United States $450 to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. To engage this 70 percent--the 20 million who are actively disengaged and 50 million who are passively disengaged--leaders need to change how they view human capital.

There is a solution to engaging employees. I call it human equity or the unique assets each individual brings to the workplace that often go unrecognized. Identifyingand leveraging your own human equity, as well as that of employees, addresses not only the incredible waste of human capital illustrated in the Gallup poll, but also related concerns that leaders can share, including the constant need for innovation. These challenges are not unique to the United States.

There is a reason why such executives as Warren Buffet and former General Electric CEO Jack Welsh sought talent beyond traditional criteria like knowledge and skills, which are also important. Here is a method for uncovering valuable intangibles in employees that I call the SHAPE V talent model:

Strength. Consider strength as defined by the 1999 Gallup Strengths-Finder study: "consistent near-perfect performance in an activity." The study identifies 34 qualities that can be innate and, unlike skills, are not learned. Individual employees and managers should not force a square peg into a round hole.

If, for example, an employee's near-perfect, near-effortless strength is in research and analysis but not so much in data management, managers should allocate this resource accordingly.

Heart. Have you ever wondered what comes first, whether you're good at something because you like it, or you like it because you're good at it? The chicken-or-egg question aside, what matters is the passion one has for a talent. This includes activities a worker would do even if he or she didn't have to do it on the job.

If a talented manager won the lottery and decided to quit his job, for example, he might be inclined to manage people in a local political campaign or take the helm of his son's little league team.

Attitude. An employee might have three general attitudes, according to a branch of study in positive psychology. …

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