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.

Let’s Have a National Referenda on Key Issues

Gallup is out with a poll today on political reform. Here are the results:
national referendaObviously, a national referenda isn’t going to happen. But if we did, it would clearly show that the vision most Americans have for their government is not realistic.Public Rejects Cuts

For instance, a Pew poll in February found that 70% of Americans, including 65% of Democrats, wanted the President and Congress to act on deficit-cutting legislation this year. But another Pew poll released just a day (PDF) later found that Americans don’t want to cut any individual programs except foreign aid (to the right).

Of course, it’s not that surprising that no one wants to cut any of those programs. They all sound very useful. But how are we going to reduce the deficit – as voters say they want – if we don’t cut anything. Well, how about we raise taxes? I’m very confident in saying that if we put tax increases up for a national referenda, it would lose badly.

Here we get to an impasse. Voters don’t want to cut individual programs, don’t want higher taxes but want to reduce the deficit. Those three things together are not possible. In the mean time, voters get angry when spending cuts pass (they don’t like the sequester), hate higher taxes (remember how hard it was to raise taxes on the richest Americans?) and are demanding cuts to the budget deficit. One party demands spending cuts, the other wants higher taxes and both clamor about the budget deficit. This all stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the capabilities of the US government.

Maybe a national referenda is just what we need – at least then Americans would have a better understand of what its government can and cannot do.