58% of employees ‘not bothered’ about work – should we be alarmed?
27 July 2012
According to the latest CIPD Employee Outlook survey, 58% of UK employees are simply ‘not bothered’ about their work. But should this be a cause for concern? The answer depends on what perspective we take on the increasingly popular issue of engagement. It could even be that this figure offers a source of hope for employers who are increasingly having to do more with fewer resources.
Firstly, the picture may not be quite as bad as this figure, taken alone, would suggest. To provide a little context, the survey shows that while 58% of employees may be neither engaged nor disengaged, 39% of employees reported positive engagement with their work and this number has been rising steadily over the last three quarters (from 36% in winter 2011/12). Only 3% of respondents indicated they were disengaged at work, and nearly two thirds of these were actively looking for a new job with a different organisation.
To look at the issue from a historical perspective, we may actually be enjoying the highest levels of engagement in centuries. Certainly the variety of jobs available today has the potential to cater for a diverse range of individual interests, goals and career paths. And the fact that employers care about employee engagement to the extent that they routinely take active steps to measure it and invest in engagement strategies is a huge step forward from the quest for economic efficiency informed by Taylorism and Fordism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s economic climate certainly poses a stark challenge and some organisations may be tempted to sacrifice employee engagement initiatives in favour of cost-cutting exercises and economic expediency. However, we should view engagement as a central tool for driving the UK economy out of the hardship that’s been lingering now for rather too long.
With the rise of the knowledge-based economy, employers are increasingly dependent on their human capital to thrive – or, at the bare minimum - survive. In this increasingly competitive market, battered by the economic crisis, employers in both public and private sectors are being pushed to do more with less, and they know that face-time (mere presence of employees at work) and swearing by the job-description will not be enough. Hence engaging the 58% of employees who are currently ‘not bothered’ about their work may hold huge potential to unlocking a more prosperous future. There is already a large body of research into employee engagement and its link to improved productivity. Moreover, there is a wealth of resources providing recommendations on how to build an engaged workforce, such as the findings of the Good Work Commission, led by The Work Foundation. And a large number of consultancies building on this research are already waiting to step in with their engagement tools and offerings.
But lets not be complacent about this. Actively engaging employees requires more than just undertaking an employee attitude survey, disseminating skilfully drafted messages about the company’s brand and mission, or mid-management training. Actively engaging employees needs to go beyond this. For starters, it may involve re-thinking the nature of the jobs provided within organisations, as well as a real focus on employee development and tailoring it to individual needs; it may even be necessary to address some prickly organisational issues to which senior leaders have often turned a blind eye (such as unethical behaviours or corrosive cultures).
So should we be alarmed? Perhaps quite the opposite: we may prefer to see this as an opportunity.