Converting the Disengaged

Published: January 7, 2013

Gallup's 30/50/20 metric seems to hold true in any industry. You know the breakdown - in any given workplace, about 30% of the employees are engaged - they would run through a wall for the organization. About 50% of the employees are disengaged. They're not really hurting the business with intent. They come to work, do their jobs, and collect their paychecks. These are not the folks, though, you'd ask to go the extra mile. And then, there's the 20% of the work team that is actively disengaged. Not all of these employees are intentionally trying to harm the workplace. In most cases, they've simply decided to devote the bulk of their energy to perpetuating toxicity.

Most business cultures try to grow the engaged group, convert the disengaged, and somehow mitigate the actively disengaged. The engaged teammates are virtually self-sustaining. With a small amount of investment, their energy is fueled from within. The actively disengaged teammates, on the other hand, consume a considerable amount of leadership attention. Sadly, we end up devoting the majority of our resources to the minority of our people. Whether through action or attrition, shrinking the actively disengaged group is vital.

The conversion of the middle group is the greatest challenge and usually tips the culture. Perhaps wrongly identified as “disengaged,” it takes a compelling vision with tangible connections to reach this critical mass of talent. These teammates need to have a reason for coming to work that connects with their life purpose. They must experience the place where their role makes an impact in the world. It is with these employees where our investment as employers will best feed succession and sustainability. These are not the obvious high potential leaders. These are the hidden gems of talent who, with regular mentoring and nourishment, may thrive.

Take a walk through your organization’s roster. Which teammates are in the 30% engaged group? What should you be doing to propel their momentum? Who is actively disengaged and, either through omission or commission, hurting your workplace? Finally, what will be the irresistible, reachable vision that awakens the 50% of your teammates who would rather not be seen as disengaged?

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.