Most People Don't Like Their Jobs, And Bosses Are To Blame

August 1, 2016

Year after year after year, Gallup surveys thousands of American workers to see how engaged they are.

And year after year after year, the figures are disappointing.

For example, in their most recent survey in 2015, Gallup found a mere 31.5 percent of American workers were engaged with their jobs, costing American companies hundreds of billions of dollars in lost productivity. That number hasn’t really changed much since 2001, when 30 percent of workers were engaged.

So why? What’s the underlying cause of this persistent problem, which prevents people and organizations from reaching their full potential, and has a dramatic impact on the bottom line?

Well, according to Gallup, it’s primarily bosses. And, perhaps worse than that, little is being done to fix it.

Managers who focus on strengths tend to have engaged employees; managers who don’t have disengaged employees (and most don’t).

Managers aren’t the only reason so many American employees aren’t engaged. But, Gallup has consistently found leadership – or lack thereof – to be one of the root causes of many American workers not really caring about their jobs.

For evidence, look no further than the introduction to Gallup’s 2013 report, written by the organization’s CEO, Jim Clifton. That year, Gallup found a mere 30 percent of American workers were engaged with their jobs, costing companies an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion that year alone in lost productivity.

“Here’s something they’ll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job — bigger than all of the rest — is who you name manager,” Clifton wrote. “When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits — nothing.”

Later in that letter, Clifton hammers home the point further. He writes:

“When leaders in the United States of America — or any country for that matter — wake up one morning and say collectively, ‘Let’s get rid of managers from hell, double the number of great managers and engaged employees, and have those managers lead based on what actually matters,’ everything will change. The country’s employees will be twice as effective, they’ll create far more customers, companies will grow, spiraling healthcare costs will decrease, and desperately needed GDP will boom like never before.”

Specifically, Gallup found that 61 percent of employees who said their manager actively focused on developing their strengths were engaged, but that represented only 37 percent of the population surveyed. The remaining 63 percent of American workers surveyed said they had managers who either focused on their weaknesses or simply ignored them altogether, and they were far more disengaged.

“This suggests that if every organization in America trained their managers to focus on employees’ strengths, the U.S. could easily double the number of engaged employees in the workplace with this one simple shift in approach,” the report reads.

Here’s the thing though – managers are not being fully supported by organizations.

It’s easy to put all the blame on bosses or say that companies do a bad job of hiring them. But, with the problem so prevalent across so many industries, is it really just that the wrong people are being hired? Or is there a larger, institutional issue in play?

Evidence suggests the latter. Research has found that 61 percent of companies offer no training to their managers at all and only 15 percent of employees feel like they have the training they receive prepares them for their next position.

In other words, people are being promoted to managerial-level positions, yet are being given little-to-no training to do the job. Without any education, many managers are struggling to connect with their workers, leading to droves of unengaged employees and staggering costs in lost productivity.

A solution that makes sense

Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. And yet that’s the exact story of 15 years of Gallup surveys – an unacceptable amount of employees are disengaged, often because of poor managers.

And yet, far too many companies do little to fix the problem by providing strong, relevant training to their managers.

It’s time to rethink things. Yes, there are many pressing needs a company has to deal with. But, as the survey shows, almost nothing has more impact on a company’s performance than its management team’s ability to get the most out of their people.

Bottom line, marketing, sales, product, recruiting and customer service are all major priorities for a company. As the Gallup poll proves year after year, training your people – particularly your managers – should be on that same level.