Why American Workers Hate Their Jobs and What To Do About It

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By Glynn Wilson –

MOBILE, Ala. – A fog rolled through the historic Oakleigh Garden District this morning as I opened my eyes, got out of bed, started the coffee and cranked up the Internet on the Mac.

We have a team together and will be meeting with lawyers and accountants today to begin finalizing a new business plan we will reveal soon. As I waded through the e-mails and news feeds, an interesting and relevant post appeared from LinkedIn, an app that quite frankly, I don’t use or engage in very often.

Mark C. Crowley, I’m sure a well meaning business manager turned motivational speaker, has an article out using Gallup polling data showing how American workers lack “engagement” on the job. He is selling a book and the idea that he has a plan to fix this by teaching people how to “Lead From The Heart.”

His advice might be somewhat helpful, but mostly it is complete bullshit. He might as well be selling snake oil as a cure for what ails you. But before I reveal the real answer and my philosophy about all this, let me share some of what he said and what the data shows.

He starts out with this provocative lede, provocative that is if you are really engaged in the problem of business as if everything could be analyzed as a “management strategy” problem.

American business is losing its war on engagement.

Crowley then goes on to say why he “took up arms in the first place,” when he found out in June of 2013 that Gallup had released its State of The American Workplace study, revealing that only 30 percent of the nation’s workers were fully engaged in their jobs.

Really? Why should that surprise anyone in a country where business owners and managers pay themselves a thousand times what they pay their workers and treat them like serfs, the new slaves in the corporate economy. Most people are not given a stake in the company they work for and do not feel a connection to its ultimate success. That’s why they are not engaged.

I have a plan to change that with my own business, but it’s not exactly new. What if, for example, that Politico had learned the lesson from Silicon Valley and companies like Google. Not only did they start out paying programmers more than the average American worker. They gave them stock in the company. They made them partners in the business and made it a fun place to work.

Crowley goes on to explain that companies have launched all kinds of well-intended missions, campaigns and strategies, “all with the goal of upending apathy, discontent – and the low discretionary effort too often displayed by their rank and file employees.”

“Yet despite all these noble and seemingly effective efforts,” he says, “we’re confronted with a sobering truth: we’ve gained very little ground. According to Gallup, growth in engagement has remained flat for most of 2015 – and we’ve seen little more than a two-point increase over the past two and one-half years.”

So he goes on to try to sell you his book and get booked as a motivational speaker at business management conferences and lures you in with the idea that “One thing’s for certain. Traditional leadership practices have produced the enemy that is low engagement. To defeat it, we must have the courage to reject many of our archaic methods, and to adopt ones known to have the greatest impact on inspiring human performance in the workplace.”

He says most companies are just moving peas around on a plate, when what managers should be doing is motivating people through assertive decision making and being accountable for decisions. Good managers also have the ability to solve problems on the fly. But here’s the kicker for Crowley, and where he figures to cash in.

Good managers, he says, are “relationship builders.”

“They’re naturally good at personalizing how they manage,” he says.

The clear implication, he says, is that many people in managerial positions are failing for one of two reasons: “They either lack the skills needed to effectively motivate people to perform, or they lack an understanding of what practices consistently drive workers to become fully engaged.”

He is certainly right about one thing: “Few companies have created the culture that lines up with their expectations.”

“When people work too many hours, don’t have enough vacation time or are expected to look at e-mails after normal work hours, the data shows their stress levels increase significantly,” says Dr. Jim Harter, who Crowley calls Gallup’s engagement Jedi for the past three decades. “But we’ve discovered that employees who have the right work environment, and who are truly engaged in their work, really manage that stress.”

Said another way, according to Crowley, “being engaged in one’s job directly influences feelings of well-being even when that job is especially demanding.”

But the Holy Grail for Crowley is that good managers are those who “care deeply about their people.”

“They share, teach, coach, support, and appreciate their employees,” Harter says. Regardless of what’s on their plate, they invest the time to know their people personally, what motivates them – their career dreams and aspirations. And “this kind of nurturing is the undercurrent of all five talents.”

Yes, what Harter said is probably true. “Letting people work from home some days, arrive at work later to avoid a tedious commute or stay home with a sick child – these accommodations are highly valued by people,” he says. “What makes it so meaningful is that it’s individualized. Employees know that you’re intentionally being supportive of them, and those feelings drive up engagement.”

According to Gallup’s work, they have come to the conclusion that only 20 percent of the entire population possess all the talents necessary to be a great manager. “They’re hard-wired into very few of us,” Harter says. “And even with focused training, only three-in-ten people will ever successfully master all five.”

That’s no doubt true.

But wait. Do you think if the companies themselves reduced their profit margins a tad, paid their executives a little less and their workers a little more, and made everybody a partner in the business, that might help with worker engagement?


We are working on a business model to create a company that does just that.

© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.