Careers: On Again, Off Again Engagement

Most of us want to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with our work. But the vast majority of us aren’t what HR experts call “engaged” by our jobs.

Most of us want to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with our work. But the vast majority of us aren’t what HR experts call “engaged” by our jobs.


What can we do about that? First, we can realize that this is a universal problem. A just-released study of 88,612 workforce members in 18 countries by Towers Perrin finds that only 21 percent of employees are engaged in their current work. In fact, 38 percent of workers feel partly to fully disengaged.

Does this sound like the weather report for your cube? Patchy clouds of engagement, followed by chilly co-workers, and a chance of hot air from your boss.

The litmus test goes like this: If you care about the future of the company and are willing to make a discretionary effort, then it’s likely you are engaged. Translation: You’re willing to work 65 hours a week because you like your job and you like your company.

If you’re working those 65 hours just out of fear, chances are you’re partly engaged but probably not for the right reasons.

The company cares about your effort for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that an engaged workforce helps it outperform its competition. And there’s more: “half of the engaged employees had no plans to leave their company, compared with just 15 percent of the disengaged.”

“Job satisfaction or employee happiness doesn’t necessarily extend itself to the financial performance of the company,” explains one of the study’s architects, Julie Gebauer, leader of the firm’s Workforce Effectiveness consulting practice.


Gebauer says the study finds three factors that all must be in sync before a worker is properly engaged:

  • Head: I know what I need to do to make my company be successful.
  • Heart: The emotional connection. You have pride in your company and you’re connected to the mission and vision.
  • Hand: The action or motivational part of the relationship. Now I’m willing to put in more effort than is required to help the company succeed.

Sounds nice. But let’s assume for a moment that your engagement is called off – it just isn’t going to happen on your current job. How would you choose your next employer based upon the likelihood that they will engage you? The study offers some intriguing ideas about this:

  • Employees want to work for a company that is seen as a leader
  • Employees want senior leadership to demonstrate inspiration, vision and commitment
  • Employees will work hard but they want a clearer picture of what’s in it for them

In a job interview, ask about the corporate culture. Do they practice social responsibility? What are the company’s programs or views regarding work/life balance? Does the company have a “no asshole rule“?

Intriguingly, the study explores engagement (and what drives it) by country and age groups. Some workers value organizations that stress social responsibility, while others prefer employers that help them achieve a work/life balance. Later this year, Towers plans to release industry cuts showing which fields have high or low engagement levels.

Is your engagement on or off?

Rusty Weston, My Global Career • San Francisco, Ca •