Engaging The Unengaged: Part 2


In Part 1 of Engaging the Unengaged, I refer to the Gallup State of the American Workforce Survey that revealed that “America is largely a nation of working automatons, with most people not feeling emotional ties to what they do and sizable numbers actively seeking to sabotage their colleagues and managers.” 

I cited some astounding statistics (hopefully, not too many) that suggested the issues and causal factors underlying disengagement.  A major component contributing to engagement that explicitly and implicitly surfaced in the study was relational dynamics. In other words, “people skills,” which is the focus of this article.

Gallup places the spotlight on managers and leaders whose weak people skills fail to help others feel connected to their work and good about themselves. What are these people skills that not only relate to others, but to us as well?

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, here are a few of the people skills that I find missing in many managers that directly affect employee engagement.

  • Listening 
  • Trusting others and being trustworthy
  • Empathy
  • Understanding the role of values, beliefs and needs
  • Self-motivation
  • Emotional Intelligence

The Towers Watson 2012 Global Workplace Study suggests that one of the key gaps in an organization’s efforts to create engagement is its ability to create an energizing environment, where a person’s physical, social and emotional needs are being considered. What then, are the mindsets and behaviors that contribute to and demonstrate recognition of these needs? As leaders what do we need to know about others and ourselves emotionally that will nurture engagement?

One of the suggestions from the Gallup Study is that organizations should “hold managers accountable, track their progress, and ensure they continuously focus on emotionally engaging their employees.” An interesting sidebar to this realization is the fundamental question,albeit, not addressed in the study, do most managers even care enough to consider other’s emotions? Do they have the skills of self-awareness and emotional self-management that enable them to understand their own emotional triggers and those of others?

For sure, we are always creating responses in others. From a neuroscience perspective are they threat or reward responses? Are managers able to link their own behavior to the responses they label as unproductive in others?

Too often I hear the “refrain” that workers are paid to do their job; essentially they should show up at work, do whatever is necessary to assume their assigned roles and tasks…and leave their emotional lives behind at home.  Embedded in this mindset is the belief in a division between what is personal and what is business – that our consideration for others is only job specific. Who people are personally only matters to the extent it influences their job performance.

Blatantly absent in this belief is an understanding that engagement is an expression of a worker’s heartfelt connection to their job and depends on people’s willingness to bring who they are more fully into their workplace. The vital question is – what do people need to come alive through their work?

To put a larger frame around the issue of engagement, attention should be given to our present day business culture’s roots in a mid 19th and early 20th century mindset, exemplified by Frederick Taylor. To what extent does this mindset, buried deep in the collective psyche still affect the ability of today’s leader to influence employees in ways that build engagement?  Regarded as the “father” of scientific management, Taylor was one of the intellectual leaders of the Efficiency Movement and his ideas were highly influential in the Progressive Era.

Taylor believed in transferring control from workers to management and set out to increase the distinction between mental (planning work) and manual labor (executing work) and in the process institutionalized a new role and status differentiation between the management-thinkers and the worker-doers. Managers became the “adults,” planning for and directing the more “child-like” workers, who lacked the capacity for self-management.

In a business culture that makes engagement more difficult by discouraging the full range of one’s humanness from showing up at work and erroneously assumes that any discussion of “feelings” is akin to the therapeutic relationship, we reinforce a system that stifles self-expression, self-management and independent problem-solving. Because this 20th century Taylor mindset runs deep in the collective unconscious of today’s business culture, C-suite leaders are just as vulnerable to the dynamics of disengagement as their employees. Trained to play leadership roles, but acting from a place grounded in the mechanics of management, both managers and leaders fail to value the people side of work.

The better model would be one in which managers and leaders actually live the recognition that business transactions are done through people, that they’re not simply “cogs in a wheel. People need to feel the vitality of work and making this happen is a task equally shared by everyone no matter what their title.

In the words of Lari Washburn, founder of IdeaVerse, Lucent Technologies,“Accessing the whole, creative self hasn’t been done in corporate America, but it should be. Instead of focusing on only logic and rational thought in the workplace, people ought to draw from a deeper well. They’ll get more from their jobs and be more on the job if they do.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. 

George Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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6 thoughts on “Engaging The Unengaged: Part 2

  1. Pingback: Engaging The Unengaged: Part 2 | Mindful Leadership & Intercultural Communication

  2. Great post. I really like your list. I’m glad you hit the point of managers not putting emotions into play. I think it is important to consider the emotions of others when making decisions cause ultimately no matter how big or small each decision a manger makes affects everyone.


    • Thanks for the comment. Much appreciated! Ah, emotions…can’t say enough about them for the simple fact that they’re always there. It’s impossible not to be emotional. Recent research in social neuroscience suggests that decision-making is not just pre-frontal activity but also includes right brain activity. Your comment about considering other’s emotions goes right to heart (no pun intended) of emotional contagion.


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