Disengaged Employees Are More Motivated Than You Think
31,664 employees across 63 organizations in the US completed Leadership IQ’s employee engagement survey and we discovered that 26% of employees are Motivated But Unhappy.
The reports that disengaged employees comprise two-thirds of the workforce are deeply flawed because those numbers fail to account for employee motivation. Hence a new report from Leadership IQ, using an advanced statistical technique called k-means cluster analysis, has discovered that 26% of employees are Motivated But Unhappy. These are people who dislike their company but are still motivated to give 100% effort at work.
While outmoded statistics might consider them disengaged employees, or describe your company as having a disengaged workforce, as this new study shows, Motivated But Unhappy employees are far from resembling an actively disengaged employee. [Keep reading to see the Cluster Analysis Chart that breaks down every group of employees].
Traditional categorizations of disengaged employees describe them as having a low emotional connection to their employer. But this outmoded typology misses a critical piece of employee engagement and disengagement; namely employee motivation. It's quite likely, for example, that some employees are willing to give 100% at work even though they dislike their current workplace. Every reader of this study probably knows an engaged worker who dislikes their company but still shows up and works incredibly hard and delivers great productivity. Those are the people that we call Motivated But Unhappy and they comprise a shocking 26% of the workforce!
31,664 employees across 63 organizations in the US completed Leadership IQ’s employee engagement survey. These 63 organizations were selected based on the consistency of their surveys (dozens of other potential organizations were deselected because their surveys were highly customized and did not allow for consistent comparisons). Respondents answered around three dozen questions about various aspects of their workplace, corporate culture, motivation, leadership, and more. Questions were asked on a 7-point scale, ranging from Never (1) to Always (7). The 63 companies were drawn from the following industries: Business Services & Consulting (7), Consumer goods (2), Education (3), Energy/utilities (2), Entertainment/hospitality (3), Financial services/banking (5), Government (6), Hi-tech/telecom (6), Hospital/healthcare/insurance (5), Manufacturing (5), Nonprofit (4), Other (7), Pharma/biotech/medical device (3), Retail (2), Services (3).
Disengaged Employees Can Actually Be Highly Motivated
At Leadership IQ, we analyzed 31,664 employees using 2 distinct engagement survey questions:
I am motivated to give 100% effort when I'm at work. [This question measures an employee's motivation; how likely they are to push and challenge themselves, evidence resilience in the face of adversity, give their maximal effort, be proactive, etc.]
I recommend this company as a great organization to work for. [This question measures an employee's emotional connection to their company; how likely they are to tell others they work for a great company, their emotional investment in the company's success, their willingness to remain at this company, etc.]
Using an advanced statistical technique called k-means clustering, we discovered that 26% of employees are Motivated But Unhappy at work. [You can see the full k-means cluster analysis in of an employee engagement survey at the end of this report]. These are workers that are highly motivated to give 100% effort at work, BUT they do NOT recommend their company as a great organization to work for.
Think about the potential lost productivity that occurs when a worker stops giving their maximal discretionary effort. Not will issues like absenteeism probably increase, but their probable employee retention will suffer and they may even develop a bad attitude. This would likely be especially problematic for remote employees where visibility into their employee engagement level will be compromised.
The following image shows the scatterplot and cluster analysis of the 2 engagement survey questions...
Traditionally, these Motivated But Unhappy employees would be considered disengaged employees. But that's very wrong, because Motivated But Unhappy employees are essentially just as motivated to give 100% as Engaged employees. Where they differ is the extent to which they're likely to recommend their company as a great organization to work for.
Let's compare the "motivated to give 100%" scores for some key groups of employees...
As you can see, on a 7-point engagement survey scale, the scores for Engaged employees (6.71) and Motivated But Unhappy employees (6.62) are significantly higher than any other group of employees. When it comes to their willingness to give 100% effort at work, these groups are nearly indistinguishable.
But when we look at both groups' willingness to "recommend their company as a great organization to work for," we see a very different picture...
You can see that the Motivated But Unhappy employees like their company about as much as unengaged employees (and only slightly more than actively disengaged employees). While Motivated But Unhappy employees might be incredibly motivated, there is clearly something that's causing their employee disengagement regarding how they feel about their current workplace.
the employee engagement cliff
If we look at only the aspect of employee engagement measured by an employee’s willing to recommend their company, we can see that over the first five years of their tenure there’s an employee engagement cliff. Essentially, the percent of employees who are the most highly engaged drops over the first five years while the percent of employees who are most intensely disengaged increases every year.
Why Is The 'Motivated But Unhappy' Group Having Such A Poor Employee Experience And Low Employee Morale?
We analyzed nearly three-dozen employee engagement survey questions, and while there are numerous areas in which Motivated But Unhappy employees differ from Engaged employees, there are 4 areas that stand out...
Issue #1: Practicing The Organization's Values
Engaged employees feel that "Actually practicing this organization's values is critical to my success here." However, the Motivated But Unhappy employees do not see the same connection between practicing the organization's values AND achieving success there.
If an employee is highly motivated to give their best effort at work, it makes sense that they would feel disengagement or disillusionment when they see inconsistency or hypocrisy in the application of the organization's values or company culture. Someone who is highly motivated is likely to have high expectations both for themselves and for everyone else in the organization. And if they see workers who ignore or disregard the organization's values yet still achieve success, that could certainly turn highly engaged employees into disengaged employees.
Imagine that a worker sees an unengaged employee who willfully ignores the company's values; is that going to drive greater productivity or will it cause that potential high performer to give up and their engagement levels to drop?
Issue #2: Correcting Serious Errors
Engaged employees feel that "When a serious error occurs, top leaders can be counted on to take proper corrective action." However, the Motivated But Unhappy employees do not share their confidence.
If someone is motivated to give 100% at work, it's likely that they would want to see errors fixed, and that they would want to see the company's top leaders take responsibility for those fixes. There's been a pervasive myth in employee engagement that 'it's the direct manager that improves employee engagement.' But as this and the previous issues show, a company's top leaders can have a large impact on whether someone is an engaged employee or a disengaged employee.
This impact may be especially large for the Motivated But Unhappy employees. For example, have you ever seen a company where the company's senior leaders didn't even bother to share or communicate the results of their annual employee engagement survey? Can you imagine a high performer becoming a disengaged worker because they exerted effort to share their suggestions which then seemingly fell on deaf ears?
Issue #3: Encouraging Suggestions For Improvement
Another issue that can distinguish engaged employees from disengaged employees is the extent to which they feel that "My leader encourages and recognizes suggestions for improvement." Engaged employees rate their leader highly on this issue while the Motivated But Unhappy workers take a dim view of their leaders' performance.
If someone is motivated to give 100% at work, it's likely that they have good suggestions for improvement, and that they're probably excited to share them. So it seems likely that if their suggestions are ignored, diminished, or generally unwelcome, their employee engagement would quickly decrease. Ponder to what extent an employee's career development would stall if all their great ideas were rejected because of poor leadership or the organization's values didn't prioritize employee recognition for suggesting better ways of working.
A previous Leadership IQ study called " The Risks Of Ignoring Employee Feedback " discovered that only 24% of people say that their leader Always encourages and recognizes suggestions for improvement. And if someone does think their leader Always encourages and recognizes suggestions for improvement, they're about 12 times more likely to recommend it as a great employer. (This will, of course, directly impact employee turnover).
This is an issue that can, and should, be assessed in your employee survey. You can instantly see whether you've got a disengaged workforce simply by looking at the extent to which your average staff member is (or is not) willing to give their best effort and work and by analyzing whether your work environment solicits employee suggestions for improvement. If you have a high performer whose suggestions are regularly ignored, you've got a recipe for active disengagement.
Issue #4: Responding Constructively To Problems
Engaged employees believe that "When I share my work problems with my leader, he/she responds constructively." However, the Motivated But Unhappy employees believe very differently.
If someone is motivated to give 100% at work, they're likely identifying work problems that need solving. And if their attempts to raise those issues with their leader are rebuffed or handled by 'blaming the messenger,' the employee engagement of these workers is likely to fade quickly.
Like the previous issue, this topic also appeared in the " The Risks Of Ignoring Employee Feedback " study. And there, only 23% of people say that when they share their work problems with their leader, he/she Always responds constructively. And if someone says their leader Always responds constructively when they share their work problems, they're about 12 times more likely to recommend the workplace as a great employer.
Disengaged Employees Are Not Necessarily Unmotivated
It's clearly a bad practice to characterize everyone who's not a classically engaged employee as 'disengaged employees,' or 'unengaged employees' or 'actively disengaged.'
Motivated But Unhappy employees are nearly as motivated as engaged employees, but they see numerous problems with their current workplace and culture.
This will have a significant impact on their turnover rates, and could eventually impact their productivity, quality, and more. However, the above 4 issues also demonstrate that leadership training , for example, could have a significant impact on improving employee engagement. Ensuring that practicing the organization's values is a critical element of promotions and evaluations could help significantly to engage employees. So too could taking proper corrective action when serious errors occur. And so would training leaders to encourage suggestions for improvement and respond constructively when employees share their work problems. Ironically, by treating Motivated But
Unhappy employees the same as disengaged workers (or unengaged employees), companies are damaging their ability to actually stop the disengagement and improve employee engagement. Motivated But Unhappy employees will likely have a tremendous work ethic, high employee motivation, achieve big goals, and more. But to keep their turnover rates from skyrocketing, changes must be made to the organization's culture, beyond just improving work-life balance or employee benefits. Leaders will need to more effectively engage employees, conduct one-on-one meetings, alter the dynamics on the team, solicit input, conduct more effective employee engagement surveys , and more.
A Better Way To Measure Employee Engagement
Every company wants to improve employee engagement. But if you're not accurately assessing employee disengagement (and, of course, measuring employee motivation), your employee engagement programs probably won't be very successful. No matter how often you conduct pulse surveys, for example, you won't discover if you have an engaged workforce if you're not asking the employee survey questions we suggest above.
That's why, if you want to seriously increase employee engagement and improve the employee experience, you must use advanced tools like the k-means cluster analysis. This is just one of the advanced statistical tools we use at Leadership IQ when we conduct employee engagement surveys for our clients.
Employee Engagement Statistics Need To Use Cluster Analysis
For this study, we employed k-means clustering, an iterative clustering algorithm that aims to find local maxima in each iteration. We used a k-means clustering algorithm with a variance-based partitioning method that ensures consistency between runs. K-means clustering allows us to identify which observations are alike and categorize them accordingly (k-means clustering is the most commonly used clustering method for splitting a dataset into a set of k groups). The k-means algorithm assigns each individual to a single cluster group, where each cluster is constructed to contain individuals who are similar to each other but dissimilar to members of the remaining clusters. We evaluated models with different numbers of clusters (i.e. 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) and ultimately chose 7 clusters based on statistical merit (i.e. between-group sum of squares, a metric quantifying the separation between clusters as a sum of squared distances between each cluster’s center weighted by the number of data points assigned to the cluster, and the center of the data set), analytical practicality, and practitioner applicability.
Cluster #1: Engaged Employees
Accounting for around 41% of the workplace, these employees scored high on both the questions “I am motivated to give 100% effort when I'm at work” (average score: 6.71 vs. the study average of 6.01) and “I recommend this company as a great organization to work for” (average score: 6.61 vs. the study average of 5.23). These workers exemplify the engaged workforce. They'll generally have low employee turnover, create high customer loyalty, drive exceptional productivity, and more.
Cluster #2: Unengaged Employees
Accounting for around 7% of the workforce, these employees had moderately-low engagement survey scores on both questions: “I am motivated to give 100% effort when I'm at work” (average score: 4.73) and “I recommend this company as a great organization to work for” (average score: 4.55). Neither actively disengaged nor actively engaged, they sit somewhere in the middle. It's entirely possible to improve employee engagement for this group, getting them more engaged at work and increasing their motivation.
Cluster #3: Disengaged Employees
Accounting for fewer than 5% of survey respondents, these employees had extremely low scores on both questions: “I am motivated to give 100% effort when I'm at work” (average score: 3.28) and “I recommend this company as a great organization to work for” (average score: 1.86). While this group is generally not large in number, their low levels of engagement give them a disproportionate level of attention (many of the stories on social media about terrible employers originate from this category).
Cluster #4: Motivated But Unhappy
This is the first of the two critical groups missed by traditional employee engagement statistics. Accounting for 26% of workers, these employees had high scores on the question “I am motivated to give 100% effort when I'm at work” (average score: 6.62) but low scores on the question “I recommend this company as a great organization to work for” (average score: 4.59).
These workers are generally ignored by employee engagement programs, or these employees are simply considered 'disengaged employees', but that's incredibly shortsighted. These employees are highly motivated, but they need leaders to recognize that the employer is failing to provide a great employee experience. Because while their inherent motivation is incredibly high, unless there is an engagement strategy to more deeply connect them to the company and improve their employee experience, their turnover rates are likely to skyrocket. If your employee engagement survey is not specifically identifying these employees, and locating their specific departments, job roles, etc., HR leaders' efforts to get them engaged at work are likely to fail. That's because these people are very different from the typical actively disengaged employees.
Cluster #5: Happy But Unmotivated
This is the second of the two critical groups missed by traditional employee engagement statistics. Accounting for around 8% of survey respondents, these employees had low scores on the question “I am motivated to give 100% effort when I'm at work” (average score: 4.78) but high scores on the question “I recommend this company as a great organization to work for” (average score: 6.35).
The big question for HR leaders is this: "do you really want engaged employees who are not inspired to give their best effort at work?" Sure, you can engage your employees and drastically improve employee happiness, but does that actually matter if those employees are not motivated to give 100% effort on the job? In fact, maybe the reason these workers feel such high levels of employee satisfaction is that they don't actually have to work very hard. Do their engagement survey scores really matter if their productivity is low? They may love their work-life balance, benefits and employee recognition programs, but will you really achieve business success if these employees are not motivated to give their best effort at work?
Cluster #6: Moderately Motivated But Very Unhappy
Accounting for around 10% of survey respondents, these employees had average scores on the question “I am motivated to give 100% effort when I'm at work” (average score: 5.79) but very low scores on the question “I recommend this company as a great organization to work for” (average score: 2.55).
While they score very low on 'willingness to recommend their company,' their motivation to give 100% at work is higher than every group besides the Engaged employees and Motivated But Unhappy employees. While most outdated employee engagement statistics would consider them actively disengaged, they are far from that. While it's true that they don't especially like their current employer, and employee retention is likely to be a problem, they are still more motivated to give 100% effort than many others in the workforce.
Cluster #7: Unengaged But Unmotivated
Accounting for around 3% of survey respondents, these employees had extremely low scores on the question: “I am motivated to give 100% effort when I'm at work” (average score: 2.4) and low scores on the question “I recommend this company as a great organization to work for” (average score: 4.5).
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