Earlier this month I had the pleasure of joining my Connecticut peers at their annual conference at St. Clements Castle overlooking the Connecticut River in Portland, Connecticut. We were fortunate to have as part our schedule an International City Manager’s Association (ICMA) University Workshop as a key part of the conference program.

Rita Ossolinski, ICMA’s Director of State and Affiliate Relations has been supporting the professional development needs of Manager’s and Administrator’s in the Northeast for many years. She attended this year as well and delivered the University Workshop Engagement, Motivation, and the Leadership Challenge.

Today and in my next couple posts, I will breakdown what we learned to share with you.

Who is Engaged?

Who we are talking about is our employees. In every organization there are those that are engaged — meaning they have a strong connection to the organization driving productivity and innovation. Then there are those employees who have varying levels of disengagement — as Rita put it they are “checked out”. Unfortunately, there is a third category, sort of a sublevel of disengagement, those that are actively disengaged meaning that they are acting out their unhappiness within the organization.

If that last category sounded troublesome and possibly destructive it is because it can be. A recent Gallup poll found that in a typical organization 49% of employees are disengaged and another 18% of employees are actively disengaged. So, in a typical organization well over half of the employees are not connected to mission, are not meeting their potential, and are not unlocking the high value they can have for themselves, their coworkers, and the organization. The Gallup study estimated that the actively disengaged cost industry $500 billion a year. Some signs of active disengagement: leaving early, arriving late, using excessive sick leave, unprofessional behavior — which covers a good deal of ground. You probably know who some of them are within your organization and there are probably some you do not realize are actively disengaged.

The solution should be obvious — we need to work on developing employee engagement. Yet although obvious, it is always is difficult for many of us to focus on developing these soft improvements in our workforce. As manager’s we are busy working on next year’s budget, working on our bond rating, holding a job meeting, or the familiar excuse that there is no money for professional development so we cannot work on this. These are all important things to do but they will never be complete. There is always more, always something else that will come up, always something unexpected to deal with. Perhaps though, as leaders and managers if we spent more time developing the engagement factor in our work force some of these things might get addressed more innovatively, more proactively, with more enthusiasm, to get a better result!

So next time, I will be ready to talk more about what we can do to develop this engagement and make it a strong force for improvement within our organizations.