Friday, April 27, 2018

Let's Stop Confusing "Disengaged" With Retired on The Job

He has a 30-70% chance to find
an estate who will pay him for this.
If you're like me and scan the titles on LinkedIn once or twice a week, no doubt you've noticed the topic de jour now seems to be "disengagement" among the American workforce; I've seen various studies alluded to which range anywhere from 30% to 70% of all workers, in all industries.  And I believe them all; and I've read and studied quite a bit more than the snippets presented on that rather limited forum.

But it's not just a topic, it's an entire new industry. Because without all these disengaged employees flailing about helplessly in the office cubical (or in the downstairs kitchen, laundry room, or where ever), being unproductive, retired on the job, yet still drawing pay and benefits, there would be no need for management consultants to come in and talk with managers about, well, just how disengaged their employees are, and how everything will be okay if they'll just sign up for their "engagement training" program.

But something is missing from all this discussion, and what's missing is a look at the environment which enables 70% of all workers in the U.S. to apparently be "checked out" and on perpetual coffee break:  it's because at their workplace, they can be.

I've been to some pretty exotic places, and I feel blessed to have done so. Some of those places throughout the years I've probably forgotten many of the sights, but what I've never forgotten and never will is the four days I spent in Manila a few years back, while backpacking my way through much of the Philippines during three-week excursion that changed my life. Because in Manila, I saw entire families living in trash dumpsters. You know the kind, those big green ones on wheels and with the two lids, the kind behind every restaurant. During those four days, I learned it was safer to put your kids in those dumpsters at night, because the streets were simply too dangerous.  I also saw kids selling bottles of water around there for I think was the equivalent of about eight cents, and I've never seen more engaged workers in my entire life.  They were engaged for the simple reason that if they didn't sell enough of those bottles, one of their little  brothers or sisters, living with them in the dumpster, would be that much closer to dying soon from either starvation itself or a nourishment- related illness, or disease from living in those conditions.  

The look in their eyes as they approached me - I can't even describe it here - all I can say is, I can never forget it:  It was the look of engagement. 

It wasn't a look of desperation - that wouldn't work as well as the untrained observer often thinks it would - but true engagement, in the moment, and in meeting their clients' needs - because they realize underneath the critical importance of doing so.

70% of the American workforce isn't disengaged, 70% of the American workforce has retired themselves on the job - because they can. Because they know a wrongful termination lawsuit will cost their boss well into six figures, because they know their manager will never have actual conversations about performance expectations with them or even review in depth a job description with them, because they know that anyone their boss would hire to replace them will also have a 70% chance of retiring themselves on the job, as well - because they can.  

But we now call it disengagement, because there's an army of consultants talking about what an interesting, great idea it would be for managers to "empower" (read: politely suggest, but then be okay with it if things don't work out too well) their staff to become engaged, consultants who are calling this phenomenon disengagement after having, first, created an entire industry for it, and are now waiting outside the gates of our estates to collect a big fat check, themselves.

The remedy may be for these workplaces to keep spending more of the principals' money on consultants to learn how to request their workers to please go back to work and do something productive; and then watching helplessly as up to 70% of them choose to settle back into their on the job retirements. 

But, maybe not. 

Maybe a solution could be for estate owners who have workers feeling disengaged at their job is to sponsor a quick trip for them to Manila, to spend just a few nights there and to witness what real, day-to-day life is like for much of the world's population; people there and elsewhere in the world who don't have the incredible luxury of becoming "disengaged" while continuing to collect enormously high wages and benefits. 

And then after returning back at their job, I'd wager to say that very few of them, after seeing a world where "disengagement" is not quite as trendy as it is here, would continue with that particular approach.

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