Americans are Not Engaged At Work. Is that a Problem?

A new poll from Gallup out today looks at whether Americans consider themselves engaged at work and breaks it down by education level. Here are the results:Workplace EngagementI’m not actually that surprised by this data. It means an entire 20% of our workforce doesn’t care whatsoever about their jobs – I almost find that lower than expected. Lots of people perform jobs that they don’t particularly care about and do them just to make a living.

But is the fact that nearly a sixth of college educated workers and 14% of workers with a postgraduate degree are actively disengaged at their job a problem? Actually, contrary to popular belief, it may not be.

A study from Leadership IQ a few months ago found that in 42% of companies, the lowest performing workers were the most engaged employees. The reason for this is unclear, but it’s important to remember when looking at the Gallup poll above. Just because a fifth of the workforce is actively disengage from their work, it doesn’t mean they’re subpar or poor performing workers. In fact, some of the best worker’s in the country are actively disengaged and some of the worst workers are engaged.

Does that mean that firms should care less about how much their employees care about their company? No. It just means that level of engagement is not a good way to evaluate worker performance. A firm would certainly rather hire a high-performing engaged worker than a high-performing disengaged one. Even if the employees’ performance is identical, an engaged worker will likely be happier in the office and more likely to raise the performance of their colleagues. But don’t necessarily assume a disengaged worker is a poor performer. The evidence is still unclear.


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