Board workers at a conference table

Global study finds most people just aren’t interested in their jobs any more

Jenna Charlton|

A new study by Towers Watson measuring employee attitudes and concerns regarding employment shows that a majority of workers worldwide don’t feel engaged with their jobs.  Are we all a bunch of lazy bums? Is the world of workers turning into a world of Homer Simpsons­–sleeping on the job, eating too many donuts? Well, not exactly.

To define what the study means by engagement, the engaged worker: works in an environment where they feel like they want to “expend discretionary effort on their job;” feel enabled by having “the tools, resources and support to do their job;” and have the energy to continue working since they work in an “environment that actively supports physical, emotional and interpersonal well-being.”

The study, which looked at 50 global companies totaling roughly 32,000 employees, revealed “two-thirds of employees feel unsupported, detached or completely disengaged.” That’s a lot of people who aren’t waking up excited about going to work. But this isn’t the result of a collective call to arms by workers around the world to take frequent catnaps. Rather it’s a demonstration of changing economic conditions that have forced workers to do more with little positive incentives and resources.

The study reveals a “global workforce struggling with the impact of financial pressure and constant change.” Employees “influenced by local economic conditions, … are [broadly] anxious, worried about their future and, at least in some parts of the world, risk-averse.” These attitudes make it difficult for people to want to engage. They’re scared stiff about losing their job, feel overworked, stagnant, or unable to create any effective change in their work environment.

This all sounds like a bit of a wake up call. While companies are asking more of employees, they need to simultaneously look at their incentive programs to keep people “sustainably engaged”. The less engaged employees feel, surely the less productive they are. As a result, the less competitive a company may become.

Canadian workers are not exempt from these findings either. In a special report to the Financial Post, Ofelia Isabel writes that out of the 1000 Canadians included in the study only “33% of Canadian workers feel sustainably engaged.” So what does this mean for Canadian companies? According to Isabel the outcomes are fairly severe for the bottom line. Companies that have highly engaged employees “lose an average of 8.8 days annually to presenteeism [lost productivity at work]…versus 17.7 days [lost] for the disengaged [group].” Further to the point, companies with “the highest level of sustainable engagement had average operating margins three times greater than those organizations with low levels of engagement.“ That’s pretty startling.

The study also investigated the reasons why disengagement is occurring. Changing work culture, economic downturn, and developments in technology have all had an impact. Companies have had a harder time keeping on top of creating alternative opportunities and motivating staff. However, the results certainly lead to some interesting conclusions. The question is will it help to create change? Will companies look at finding new ways to keep workers sustainably engaged?

What do you think? Do feel like your employer does enough to create new opportunities for you to grow your career?


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