Re-engaging workers with their roles will bring increased productivity. Disengagement of staff is a curse, says Cassandra Gaisford.
I think Homer Simpson said it best: 'Today people don't tend to go on strike as much as they used to, or leave their places due to economic insecurity. They just go in every day and do it really half-arsed'," says Dr Martyn Newman, a world renowned expert on leadership and emotional intelligence.
Most people begin their employment relationship with high hopes about the future.
Sometimes these expectations are met, but more often than not eventually dreams and reality go their separate ways and apathy, disillusionment, resentment and disengagement soon set in.
Left to flounder people either vote with their feet, or with their heart - withdrawing and just doing the bare minimum to hang on to their jobs.
Employee engagement comes in three waves according to a recent Gallup survey of US workers:
* Engaged - those who work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company.
* Not engaged - these employees are essentially "checked out" - sleepwalking through their workday, putting time - but not energy or passion - into their work.
* Actively disengaged - employees aren't just unhappy at work; they're busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.
Gallup's survey concludes only 29 per cent of US workers are "engaged". A staggering 56 per cent are "not engaged" at all, and the remaining 15 per cent of employees are "actively disengaged".
Whatever form disengagement takes, the alarming reality is devastating numbers of people no longer bring their heart to work.
In the US alone some experts estimate over 22 million workers are divorced from their jobs - and these are just the ones who are actively disengaged. The other half are doing their job half-arsed.
As a result businesses are losing a fortune in plummeting productivity and revenue.
According to Gallup statistics, the impact of employee disengagement hits the bottom line hard, costing the American business economy up to $350 billion annually in lost productivity.
But the crippling costs don't stop there. Disengagement can be really toxic to people's health - increasing rates of depression and anxiety and drowning people's confidence and self-esteem.
The economic burden of depression in the United States includes treatment costs, estimated by Gallup to be US$83 billion ($117 billion), and indirect workplace costs $51.5 billion from absenteeism and "presenteeism" - reduced productivity while at work due to depression.
So who is to blame for the soaring divorce rate? If being employed is really a partnership between employer and employee is it really just up to workers to make the emotional, mental and behavioural changes to survive and thrive at work?
"In business, as in life, others - including your employer - cannot make you happy, only 'you' can make you happy," says Paul Weaver, engagement and internal communications strategist from HainesAttract.
"A business, if it wants to be successful, should present a clear vision, then develop an environment that encourages opportunity and provides the resources and knowledge to enable you do the best job you can - then reward you for your achievements.
"This job satisfaction is likely to make you feel happy but your happiness in itself is not the goal or responsibility of business."
While employee happiness may not be a business KPI, unfortunately for their employers, when people are unhappy, they show it in a myriad of different ways.
They create problems with co-workers and customers alike and can demoralise an entire business. Ultimately they can undermine a business and put it on the fast track to being out of business.
Many experts warn organisations who fail to respond to the emotional needs of their employees do so at their peril and point the finger squarely at ineffective, litigious HR personnel, lousy managers and ineffective training providers.
Most agree bad leadership creates a destructive culture where people will not thrive and remain unconvinced that organisations understand the value of investing in what psychologists refer to as softer skills.
Intuitively many people know while happiness may not be the sole responsibility of employers, looking after people at work pays dividends. Research backs this up.
For example, The Hay Group identified engaged employees generate 43 per cent more revenue than disengaged ones. Engaged employees also tend to:
* Be more satisfied with their jobs;
* Be more likely to stay with their employer even when other opportunities emerge;
* Be more tolerant of (perceived) temporary economic hardships that are down to the economy;
* Bring a consistently higher level of commitment, creativity and energy to their jobs; and
* Demonstrate higher levels of "good citizenship" behaviours both at and away from work.
The general premise of employee engagement is simple, individual contributions of employees in the workplace are influenced by the strength of their emotional connection to their employer.
The stronger and more positive that connection, the more likely it is employees will contribute their best efforts for the sake of their organisation or brand.
"Emotions are viral - they rub off on those around you. Your colleagues, direct reports, customers, suppliers and family can only benefit," says Jasbindar Singh, a New Zealand-based leadership development coach and emotional and spiritual intelligence specialist who helps executives become more effective.
"To engage and inspire your people and be an effective strategic leader, you need to be able to understand your people - their individual motivators and drivers, who they are as people and what really matters to them.
"All these things are in the realm of emotional intelligence."
Engagement as a strategy is not only important but vital - especially in a climate of economic uncertainty - to the long-term viability of most business enterprises and the health and well-being of economies.
Improving engagement has been recognised as so important the UK Civil Service recommends it as a critical strategy for government.
As Lord Mandelson puts it: "Only organisations that truly engage and inspire their employees produce world-class levels of innovation, productivity and performance."
To enhance performance through employee engagement Dr Newman encourages leaders to look to themselves and invest in what he terms their "emotional capital".
Effective ways to boost the emotional bank account and re-engage unengaged employees include:
* Love what you do: "I firmly believe that the job of leadership is to ignite and connect with the passion inside people, and the first place you've got to find that is inside yourself," says Dr Newman.
* Engage people in your vision: spend time communicating the purpose that underlies why the organisation exists and the story of what the business is trying to create.
* Re-ignite the passion: help people to love their job and eagerly look forward to coming to work each day.
* Empower your people: allow people to take risks and show their initiative at work. Avoid the blame game and encourage a learning culture.
* Focus on the positive: remind people about the things that they and the organisation does well. Devote time to expressing gratitude and appreciation for work well done.
* Grow your people: help people set challenging goals that enables them to acquire skills which they can use as a springboard to grow and develop - bouncing on to the next opportunity if necessary.
* Have a voice: live your values and communicate openly, honestly and often. Enable employees to do the same and actively listen to boost engagement and mutual respect.
* Encourage balance; recognise that people are not fridges or computer consoles - they are humans with a wide variety of interests, hobbies and social activities. Proactively encourage and support the pursuit of balance away from work.
* Improve relationships; proactively invest in improving your relationship skills. Great leaders are high in empathy, understand the task that their people must perform, and sense the feelings, needs and perspectives of others. They actively work at improving relationships - both their own and within their teams.
* Encourage self-responsibility; the employment relationship is not a one-sided affair. If you've done all you can to create a great working relationship and the other party is holding back - it's time to show them the door.
Nothing disengages employees more than being surrounded by co-workers doing a half-arsed job.
Proactively committing to boosting positive feelings at work is quickly becoming the one of the best investments organisations and those that lead them can make.
But it's not a once-over-lightly miracle cure for organisational woes. As Dr Newman notes, "it takes real emotional strength and skills to lead".
Achieving extraordinary results through employee engagement requires a whole-hearted approach and a commitment to engaging the minds, bodies and souls of those you lead.