Seventy percent of U.S. employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report. Put more simply, most of us hate our jobs. But there are ways to make work more than just a place to count down the seconds until you’re back home again.
According to Gallup, 30% of U.S. employees are “engaged” at work, which the polling organization defines as those “who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner.” The rest of us are “emotionally disconnected” from our workplaces, making us much less likely to be productive. Fifty-two percent of employees says they are basically “checked out” at work, and 18% say they’re so unhappy they’re actually acting out their unhappiness in the workplace. “Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish,” Gallup’s report says.
You might expect that levels of employee disengagement have gone up since the Great Recession, considering both the extent to which employers have squeezed productivity out of existing employees and the large number of people who are under-employed. But that 30% engagement number has actually been relatively static since Gallup started tracking happiness in the workplace in 2000. In fact, 74% of employees said they were unhappy at work in 2000, more than at anytime since the recession.
Employers play a key role in determining whether a workplace is enjoyable or not, of course. But employees also maintain significant control over whether they feel fulfilled at work. “A lot of what drives performance comes from the culture the manager puts in place, but individuals can take action to increase their own engagement,” says Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace management. “It’s not just a one-way street.”
Harter suggests five ways you can feel more engaged at work:
Understand expectations. First, and most important, Harter says employees should have “role clarity” at work, which can often get overlooked by employers. “We define it as doing what you do best every day,” he says. The more employees know what’s expected of them, the better they might feel knowing they’ve accomplished what’s being asked.
Make sure you have the tools you need to be effective. Employees would also be more engaged if they simply had the materials, equipment, and authority to do their jobs right. Construction workers need the right pair of gloves. Office workers need the right software. And everyone needs the authority to solve problems as they arise. “Many employees show up and want to do a good job – they just don’t have the tools,” says Harter. “The employee has to tell an employer, ‘This is how it relates to my objectives.’”
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Tell your boss what makes you most effective and fulfilled. Harter suggests communicating exactly what gives you the most fulfillment from your job. Essentially, are you doing what you do best? Employees who don’t have the opportunity to reach their potential can get frustrated quickly.
Develop relationships. “The human part of us doesn’t leave when we get to work,” Harter says. Employees should seek out supervisors who care about them and their work, someone they can connect with on a more personal level. But friendships between co-workers also help. “If you’re having a bad day, it’s good to have someone to talk to about it.”
See the bigger picture. A big part of feeling fulfilled is making sure you have the right job in the first place, and that’s often a matter of feeling invested in the overall goals of the organization. “We have a basic human need to see ourselves as part of a group that has an important purpose,” says Harter. “The more people feel they’re connected to that larger tribe, the better the performance because they’re thinking about something bigger.”