We’ve all been there…that feeling of being over-worked, unappreciated and under-paid. We loved our jobs and loved what we did and told everybody around us how blessed we are that we “get” to do what we do for a living! We were like Pollyanna poster-children skipping into our office while humming a round of “Kumbaya” under our breaths! And then it happens…we wake up one morning and realize we have been plagued with lifelessness, pessimism and lack of motivation to go to work, when it was only a year, months or even weeks ago we couldn’t wait to get to work. Such an infectious disease not only contaminates employees, but becomes imbedded in the workplace itself, creeping negativity from department to department like a plague.
Many companies are suffering from poor productivity and profits. The cause? Disengaged workers, a costly virus that’s spreading throughout businesses worldwide. In Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Executive Summary, the report begins, “While the state of the U.S. economy has changed substantially since 2000, the state of the American workplace has not.” It goes on to say that only 30 percent of the US workforce is engaged – and that this figure remains essentially unchanged since 2000. Breaking it down even further, only 29 percent of employees are engaged in their work while 54 percent are mentally checked out and 17 percent are actively disengaged and sabotaging the efforts of their co-workers. These are the individuals whose negativity toward their jobs is verbally expressed to anyone within listening distance and who are actively recruiting membership to their highly exclusive “This Place Sucks” club. Requirement for membership? Feel the same way about the company and don’t be afraid to express those feelings as often as possible to as many people who will listen. Looking at the big picture, disengaged employees are costing U.S. companies more than $300 billion annually.
So how can this be turned around? I recall a student telling me once when I was sharing my story about getting fired from a job because of my own disengagement (a.k.a. negativity), that for every person you point a finger at, there are three more fingers pointing back at you. Go ahead…try it…it’s true! We have to first begin with ourselves. Disengagement, however, should not be confused with low morale. In her book I Quit, But Forgot to Tell You, author Terri Kabachnik points out that “low morale occurs when a caring, engaged worker becomes frustrated with their supervisors, workload, environment, company policies, etc.” Poor morale can actually lead to disengagement, but disengagement itself occurs after the employee has ceased to care. They’ve “mentally checked out and emotionally divorced themselves from the organization.”
So the important question one must ask is, “Am I among the 70 plus percent of disengaged workers in America?” If so, what are you going to do about it? Why not start by defining what exactly it is that creates and stimulates that “mojo” within you? Start by assessing your beliefs about your job – do you love what you do? Do you love where you work? Kabachnik states that “your work should be a source of energy, not exhaustion. If your job is not satisfying, your behaviors may be revealing how you truly feel about your job.” You may have to change your behaviors or do yourself and everyone else a favor…get off the bus!
A friend once told me that if you work a 40-hour work week, it equates to 2,080 hours per year, which equates to one-third of your life. One-third of your life is a big chunk of life to not be happy with! I’ve often told clients who attend my customer service workshops that while there are days that it may feel like it, the company logo is not stamped to a ball and chain attached to their ankle.
In an October, 2013 Forbes article titled “What To Do If You Are Disengaged At Your Job,” contributor Louis Efron shared how, a few years ago, Dr. Gerald Bell, a professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, published a study where he asked 4,000 retired executives – whose average age was 70 – one question: If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently? The number one response: I should have taken charge of my life and set my goals earlier. Life isn’t practice, it’s the real thing. Efron states that by flipping the tables on the static engagement numbers, we find the answer to the disengagement issue. It is not the business but the employees who need to take charge of their careers and lives. This may mean mustering up the confidence and courage to speak to your boss about how you spend your time in your current job, looking at other roles within your company, or taking a completely different career path somewhere else.
The late Zig Ziglar said, “It’s not the situation, but whether we react negative or respond positive to the situation that is important.” This includes how we react toward our jobs. The universe is neutral, and so are the situations – it’s how we react to individual actions and life situations that give them meaning. Now you’ve two choices – living in action or reaction. Those who live in action are those who take control of their lives, who make their decisions and move forward. Those living in reaction live their lives as the reflection of others’ behavior – they live a defensive life and it’s a very tiring and debilitating way of living on yourself, and on others around you. Live in action, not reaction; you’ll give the best meaning to life’s situations whether you are in the workplace or out and about in the world.
A former business owner herself and graduate of the Urban Hope Entrepreneur program out of Green Bay, Michelle Madl-Soehren is currently the business development coordinator for Nicolet Area Technical College, where she assists and coaches new and existing entrepreneurs and small business owners with business plan development, provides professional development workshops throughout the area and coordinates and teaches Nicolet College’s eSeed Entrepreneur Program. She holds a baccalaureate degree from Mount Mary College in behavioral science and a master’s in management and organizational behavior from Silver Lake College. Madl-Soehren is also the current president of Northwoods Women in Business and past president of the Northwoods Entrepreneurs Club, and sits on the state advisory board for the Small Business Development Centers. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (715) 365-4492.