The Inspired, the Indifferent and the Angry: How Engaged is Your Workforce?

The analytics and advisory company Gallup publishes a yearly report on the State of the Global Workplace. One of the standout statistics from this year’s report is that 62% of people are not fully engaged at work, and this low employee engagement costs the global economy $8.9 trillion, or 9% of GDP.

If you’re a leader, this sentiment may be familiar. But while headline statistics such as this are striking, what do you do with this information, and what does it mean for your business? As Gallup’s research suggests, viewing a workforce through the lens of engagement can be illuminating and, in some respects, deeply worrying. There are three categories to consider, each placed on a continuum:

  • Engaged: Those who enjoy their jobs, connect positively with their colleagues, and see the organisation’s work as meaningful.
  • Not Engaged: Those who turn up for work and do only the minimum required. They don’t actively engage with others and don’t particularly enjoy their jobs.
  • Actively Disengaged: Those frustrated by their role and how things are going. They often consciously decide not to contribute and actively oppose their employer’s goals.

This model is helpful for leaders looking to understand the makeup of a team or workforce. As you read this article, you may start categorising individuals this way. However, it’s important to remember that positions will likely change at any time. So, knowing this, where do you begin when looking to improve engagement? Part of the answer lies with those consistently at each end of the engagement continuum, with the Stars at the farthest right and the Gremlins at the farthest left.

The Stars

Everyone looks up to the Stars. They lead by example, drive things forward, and consistently perform well. Their ability to inspire is a powerful motivator. Great communicators, Stars can build upon collective ideas and quickly translate them into positive action. Leadership and other team members look to the Stars when things need to get done. The ultimate team players, no matter what challenges they face, the Stars learn and adapt. Their skills and behaviour help reassure and carry people along, ensuring the team works well.

Stars often possess an intrinsic motivation beyond financial incentives; they are driven by a sense of purpose and the desire to make a meaningful impact. Stars also play a crucial role in fostering a positive organisational culture. They embody the company’s values and mission, setting a standard for others to follow. By recognising and rewarding their efforts, leaders can amplify the influence of Stars, encouraging a ripple effect throughout the organisation.

The Gremlins

At the other end are the Gremlins. These are people who have been actively disengaged for so long that they are now (consciously or not) working against the best interests of others and the organisation. Even when few in number, their negative behaviour is so powerful that it can adversely affect any colleague they come into contact with. Appearing closed-minded and impervious to feedback, Gremlins can be steadfast in their belief that their view is correct.

They tend to resist change, create discord, and drain the energy of those around them. Gremlins can significantly undermine team morale and productivity. Their persistent negativity and opposition to change can create a toxic work environment, making it challenging for others to stay motivated and engaged.

Addressing the root causes of their disengagement is essential, as it can help transform their outlook and behaviour or, alternatively, provide a clear justification for necessary changes in team composition.

It’s a leader’s job to leverage the power of the Stars and limit the power of the Gremlins.

Strategies to Leverage the Stars and Limit the Gremlins

1.  Promote a Me to We Culture

Encourage a culture where individual successes are celebrated as team achievements. Stars thrive in environments where their contributions are recognised and can inspire others. A Me to We culture fosters collaboration and a sense of collective responsibility, transforming individual efforts into organisational success.

2.  Regular One-to-One Check-ins

Short check-ins with team members to gauge their feelings and engagement levels. Ask questions like:

  • How are you feeling today? Inspired? Indifferent? Angry?
  • Why do you feel this way?

These meetings should be structured yet conversational, providing a safe space for employees to share their thoughts and feelings. This approach helps leaders identify early signs of disengagement and address them proactively.

3.  Empower the Stars

Give Stars opportunities to lead projects and mentor others. Their influence can help uplift those who are not engaged. Providing Stars with challenging assignments and recognising their achievements can further motivate them and set a benchmark for others.

4.  Address the Gremlins

Identify actively disengaged employees and work to understand their concerns. Provide support and clear pathways for improvement, but also be prepared to make tough decisions if their behaviour doesn’t change. Sometimes, this might mean transitioning these individuals out of the organisation to maintain a positive and productive work environment.

5.  Foster Open Communication

Create an environment where feedback is welcomed and acted upon. Stars should feel their voices are heard, and even Gremlins should be able to express their grievances constructively. Open communication channels help in building trust and transparency within the team.

6.  Provide Professional Development

Invest in training and development programs that enhance the skills of all employees. Stars will appreciate opportunities to further their knowledge and careers, while indifferent employees will find new motivation through learning and growth. Tailored development plans can reignite a sense of purpose and commitment, transforming indifferent employees into more engaged team members.

7.  Recognise and Reward

Implement a system of recognition that highlights both individual and team accomplishments. Regularly acknowledging hard work and dedication boosts morale and reinforces positive behaviour. Consider a mix of formal and informal recognition methods to suit different personalities and achievements. Public recognition can enhance a sense of community and belonging, while private acknowledgements can provide personal motivation.

8.  Invest in Middle Managers

Typically, middle managers are promoted from more junior roles, often unaware of the requirements and demands of their new environment. A failure to invest in their transition, building the requisite skills and behaviours, leaves them vulnerable to challenging line reports and Gremlins. Investing in the development of middle managers is proven to be one of the most effective strategies in building engaged, high-performing teams. Equip them with leadership training, mentorship programs, and resources to manage their new responsibilities effectively. Well-supported middle managers can bridge the gap between upper management and frontline employees, ensuring alignment and fostering a culture of engagement throughout the organisation.

. . . . .

Managing employee engagement is a process that takes time and effort and requires consistent empathy and adaptability from leaders. By fostering a culture that values every team member’s contribution and addresses disengagement head-on, organisations can thrive even in challenging times.

Leaders must continuously assess and refine their strategies to keep the workforce motivated and aligned with the organisation’s goals. By leveraging the strengths of the Stars and addressing the challenges posed by the Gremlins, leaders can create a dynamic and resilient workforce capable of achieving exceptional results.

Understanding and managing employee engagement is critical for the success of any organisation. By recognising the different levels of engagement and implementing targeted strategies, leaders can transform their teams, drive productivity, and ultimately contribute to a more positive and profitable workplace.

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According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report most employees are not engaged (62%) — those who show up, do the bare minimum and are uninspired by their work — or actively disengaged (15%) — those who have a bad manager and a miserable job and are actively seeking a new one.

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