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Why Are So Many Workers Disengaged? by Fiona Savage

The UK has an employee commitment shortfall. Surveys report that only round one third of UK employees state they are engaged. No wonder that increasing worker commitment is seen as a major concern by UK managers. In the CBI Harvey Nash review (July 2012) securing higher employee commitment was the top workforce priority for UK organisations. The Head of the Civil Service recognised gaining increased commitment among public sector workers is a priority.

Organisations often develop engagement policies yet another example of doing something thing too employees rather than understanding motivation.

employee disengagement

In this RSA video and in his book Drive, Dan Pink chooses motivation as a significant aspect for improved performance in organisations, school and life in general. There is nothing more fundamental for an organisation than the motivation of its employees. It turns out that the “normal” approach of utilised the carrot and stick (threats and rewards) is really counterproductive, it makes employees decrease their productivity.

If motivation was easy it wouldn’t be perplexing. The difficulty is that risks and rewards do work, but only for repetitive mechanical jobs, the very repetitive mechanical jobs that are disappearing from the UK (even though manufacturing itself has steadily increased). But threats and rewards are only effective when what you want is compliance.

The research shows offering employees more money who are involved in more cognitive work does not make them work harder, the research discover that the carrot-and-stick approach no longer works. For cognitive work, it’s demeaning; it removes intrinsic motivation and replaces it with  drudgery. When that happens, people lose their motivation and become disengaged.

The same thing happens in schools. When you offer students extrinsic rewards, they learn to work only for extrinsic rewards; they learn to the exam, this is a short-term answer that has long, deep and very destructive results.

Dan Pink shows the gap between what sciences knows and what organisations do. Seventy percent of employees are disengaged due largely to the command and control management style which removing autonomy, mastery and purpose a hallmark of this legacy style of management, destroying motivation.   Intrinsic motivation produces higher long-term outcomes, but organisations continue to implement soul-destroying carrot and stick practices.  Will it take a carrot or stick to motivate organisational leaders to change?

 

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