Discretionary Effort: Beware the Three Destructive Narratives
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Discretionary Effort: Beware the Three Destructive Narratives

Employees become disengaged from their jobs and companies for many reasons, including bad bosses; repetitive, routine work assignments; or physical/psychological problems. But no matter the cause, the statistics on disengaged workers are sobering.

According to Gallup research, only 30% of employees –- the ones who give true “discretionary effort” — can be said to be actively engaged in their jobs. Of the remaining workers, about 50% are unengaged and 20% are actively disengaged.

The big disconnect
Think of it: 70% of employees emotionally disconnected from their work.

Such disengagement represents a huge missed opportunity for employers; because a fully involved, truly engaged employee actually gives an employer what amounts to a day and a half’s work for every day they work.

So how can a good manager help employees stay engaged in their jobs?

Well, one way is to beware of the Three Destructive Narratives: an unholy trio of business scenarios that may cause your people to disconnect from their daily duties.

#1. I’m Underutilized. In this narrative, the employee thinks that his skills are being wasted working for a manager who doesn’t recognize his potential. For this person, being in a job that doesn’t take advantage of all he has to offer is demoralizing. Good worker or not, if the situation isn’t dealt with, he’ll eventually disengage.

#2. I’m Invisible. Here, the employee is deploying her skills and getting good results but she thinks her manager doesn’t notice. Under such conditions she might give her all for a while, but without some kind of tangible recognition from the person to whom she’s tethered her career aspirations, she’s almost sure to give up on discretionary effort.

#3. I’m Not Making A Difference. Many employees love their jobs and feel fulfilled by their work, but others need more. They need purpose and meaning in their jobs –- the idea that what they do every day produces not just a paycheck but a greater good. In some businesses — take solar panels, medical equipment, or education, for instance — providing this higher purpose is easy; making bricks or ball bearings, not so much. Still, that doesn’t mean that managers in those industries shouldn’t try to help these employees find the greater meaning they need.

Let’s be realistic; managers won’t be able to help every employee who becomes disengaged. Sometimes the only solution is for the person to go work elsewhere. But before that becomes necessary, managers should check whether the employee is suffering from one of the Three Destructive Narratives, and if so take appropriate countermeasures.

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