World Business Forum 2011: The Destructive Power of the Disengaged Employee

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During his presentation on management innovation at the World Business Forum in New York, London Business School Professor Gary Hamel mentioned that one of the biggest problems plaguing many companies nowadays is the sheer number of organizations that are "emotionally uninspired."

During his presentation on management innovation at the World Business Forum in New York, London Business School Professor Gary Hamel mentioned that one of the biggest problems plaguing many companies nowadays is the sheer number of organizations that are "emotionally uninspired."As part of his address, Hamel pointed to recent Towers Perrin research on employee engagement. According to the Towers Perrin numbers, just 8 percent of global workers are "fully engaged." Meanwhile, another 71 percent are categorized as either partially engaged or partially disengaged, or what Hamel refers to as those workers who "don't really give a poop" and simply want to collect a paycheck.

In previous Towers Perrin research on the topic not cited by Hamel, the consulting firm found that companies with highly-engaged employees outperformed other companies in operating income by 19.2 percent. Looked at another way, companies with below-average levels of employee engagement suffered an operating income decline of nearly 33 percent.

In peeling back the onion on these issues, Hamel says that the high levels of employee disengagement aren't necessarily a reflection of people having boring jobs. In fact, most workers claim they like their jobs--"the work is not the problem, you have to dig deeper," says Hamel.

Other underlying problems could include employee cynicism toward senior management, particularly as compensation and benefits for the rank-and-file continue to get squeezed.

Not only are disengaged employees a drag on organizational productivity, they can literally throw a wrench into the gears of an otherwise functioning company. As Peppers & Rogers Group Founding Partner Don Peppers says, "Actively disengaged employees can be even more destructive in today's always-connected society than was possible just a few years ago."

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