Disengaged Employees Are More Motivated Than You Think
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. And while outmoded statistics might consider them disengaged employees, as this new study shows, Motivated But Unhappy employees are far from being actively disengaged.
Disengaged Employees Can Actually Be Highly Motivated
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 people who dislike their company but still show up and work incredibly hard and deliver great productivity. Those are the people that we call Motivated But Unhappy and they comprise a shocking 26% of the workforce!
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.
- I recommend this company as a great organization to work for.
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 our report Employee Engagement Statistics Are Missing 2 Critical Groups Of Employees].
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.
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.
Why Is The ‘Motivated But Unhappy’ Group Having Such A Poor Employee Experience?
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.
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.
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. And this impact may be especially large for the Motivated But Unhappy employees.
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.
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.
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.
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.