Engaged at Work? You're (Sadly) in the Minority

Are you happily engaged at work? If so, look around at two people sitting next to you. Statistically, they are disengaged.

Last year, Gallup released its annual Employee Engagement Report with positive headlines that workplace engagement was at record highs since 2000. The problem? The record high was a humble 34 percent.

When I first read that statistic, I was stunned that 34 percent was considered high. This means that little more than one-third of our workforce is engaged and motivated in their work, leaving the other two-thirds checked-out, or at best, “meh” (as my son likes to put it).

Is this for real?

Then I remembered something I repeat to my clients over and over: our systems are designed for the comfort of the known and to keep us safe.

While this genetic makeup has kept us alive for millennia, the same system favors a bias to stay in familiar environments doing the same work even if we’re miserable doing it. Without an awareness of what our systems try to do when a new opportunity is presented, we can compute risk to mean danger.

As a result, many of us can stay stuck even when it sucks.


Depending on how conscious you are of this underlying bias at work, change can feel completely foreign to some.

This reminds me of a very specific memory from my last salaried, corporate job. It was 2007 and I had just announced to my co-workers that I would be leaving in a month to attend the Rolf Institute to pursue a completely new career path. I was excited at the possibility of chasing a new dream, and knew I could no longer stay in a career I didn’t love that no longer gave me juice.

A co-worker who I didn’t know very well came over to my desk a few days later. I don’t recall his name, but I do recall his exact expression as he came to talk to me. His face was awestruck and confused, dumbfounded really, as if he couldn’t even wrap his mind around my decision.

“But you have a mortgage,” he said. “How are you doing this?”

His question wasn’t inquisitive or interested from a place of figuring it out for himself too. He just looked stunned and was literally wondering how it was even possible that I’d made the choice to leave.

“I’m being bold,” I told him, which didn’t ease his confusion at all before he walked away.

Had I had the conversation again, I might have added the subtext of what I really meant: It was no longer acceptable to me to be comfortably uncomfortable with work that wasn’t meaningful.

Yes, I had a mortgage and that complicated things a bit. But it was simply a problem to solve on my way to my bigger goal.

No doubt this would have blown his mind even further.

The vast majority of people crave certainty because their Systems demand it. They don’t know how to break out of safety constraints so instead, they let certainty take control, even when they are miserable and know they can dream – and do – bigger.

If you are aware that you are disengaged or de-motivated with your work, and want more for yourself, kudos to you. You’ve taken the first step of acknowledging what you want when most people struggle to do even that. Now it’s about bringing more awareness to the action you want to take.

Forget doing what I did and quitting a steady job to pursue a completely new career path if that seems too risky for you. Instead, focus on micro-steps. It’s OK to say, “I’m terrified but I’m going to take one step forward toward what I want.”

What small step can you take today to inch toward being more engaged, or finding more meaningful work? Who can you enlist to help? Who will cheer for you along the way?

I believe that self-aware, inspired, vision-oriented people live great lives and change the world for the better. That’s why I do the work I do. What vision gets you up every morning and keeps you going?

Comment here or get in touch and tell me your answer!