Why Americans Really Hate Their Jobs

Given Luman International’s work with hundreds of organizations over the past 30 years, we weren’t the least bit surprised by Gallup’s 2013 “State of the American Workplace” report. It turns out that you get what you design your culture to give you, and too many cultures are designed to give you unhappy people.

Only 30% of surveyed employees are “engaged and inspired.” This is pathetic, especially so in a free country where people can live, learn, and work wherever they want to. 70% are doing stuff they don’t like to do or even hate to do? Only 3 in 10 really care? That means that if you have 10,000 people, except for how it inconveniences them 7,000 of them really don’t care if your organization lives or dies.

It turns out that you get what you design your culture to give you, and too many cultures are designed to give you unhappy people.

But even that 30% stat is misleading, because engagement is only slightly better than the low bar of “employee satisfaction.” You can be engaged with your work but not passionate about the organization, you can be inspired to do things that make you feel good but which are misaligned with your organization’s direction.

Luman recognized long ago that you can be both engaged and inspired and still not be creating value or delivering results – the best and ultimately only real way to achieve passion in the workplace.

And it goes downhill from there. 52% have the “so-so’s” – they can take your workplace or…not. They’re willing to move it forward if it isn’t too hard, and willing to tell you to shove it if it is. The way too many organizations try to address this? With trinkets – 1501 ways to reward employees, recognition programs, or benefits like gyms, daycare centers, cafeterias. All of these may be fine ideas, but none of them are going to create passion and commitment.

Or money, of course. Some of the unhappiest, least passionate people are making the most money. Money is not only not the answer, it can become a big part of the problem. How? Miserable, destructive, morale-killing people just won’t leave, because they’re making too much money. These aren’t golden handcuffs, but just handcuffs. And you’re organization is chained to them.

There is one more group, the 18% who are “actively disengaged.” They actually do care about your organization more than the 52%. The only problem is that what they care about is tearing everything down.

The only thing that works – that gets you out of the 30% trap, that gives you a shot at having 95% who are truly passionate and committed – is to design a culture around key elements that are doable by real leaders in real situations. We have identified 10 of those keys, which we teach in our course Building a Passionate Organization™. The course is interesting and incisive and way out of the box, and even comes with CEUs. If you implement these far-reaching principles and practices, you can win over all of the 52%, and convert or marginalize the 18%.

Last but not least, if you design these 10 key elements into your culture, your employees can become one of Gallup’s biggest exceptions.

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