Addressing Employee Disengagement

Features - Workplace Management Series

Recognizing the unique assets individuals bring to your company can lead to improved engagement.

November 5, 2013

An alarming Gallup poll published earlier this year is still sending shock waves throughout the business community: Most American workers either hate their jobs or don’t care one way or the other about them.

Epidemic of Disengagement

Less than one-third of Americans are actively engaged in their work, meaning they’re passionate about it, enthusiastic and energetic. They’re consistently productive and high performing.

Gallup estimates the 20 million employees who are “actively disengaged”—openly negative and unhappy—have a staggering effect on the economy, costing the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.

“To engage the 70 percent of noncommittal or ‘actively disengaged’ employees, business managers need to change how they view human capital,” says Trevor Wilson, chief executive officer of Toronto-based TWI Inc., a global corporate speaker, human equity strategist and author of The Human Equity Advantage, (

“Engaging employees is an issue I’ve been working on for more than two decades, and there is a solution,” Wilson continues. “I call it human equity—the unique assets each individual brings to the workplace that are often unrecognized. Recognizing and leveraging your own human equity, as well as that of your employees, addresses not only the incredible waste of human capital illustrated in the recent poll but also related concerns business leaders share, including the constant need for innovation.”

He adds, “These challenges are not unique to the United States.”

Beyond the Traditional
There is a reason why executive royalty, such as Warren Buffet and former General Electric CEO Jack Welsh, seek talent beyond traditional criteria such as knowledge and skills, which also are important, Wilson says. He offers a method, called the SHAPE V Talent model, for uncovering valuable intangibles in employees:

1. Strengths – Consider strength as defined by the 1999 Gallup StrengthsFinder study, which includes “consistent near-perfect performance in an activity.” The study identifies 34 qualities, which can be innate and, unlike skills, are not learned. Individual employees and managers should not force a square peg into a round hole; if an employee’s near-perfect, near-effortless strength is in research and analysis but not so much in data management, managers should allocate this resource accordingly.

2. Heart – Have you ever wondered what comes first, whether you’re good at something because you like it or you like it because you’re good at it? The chicken-or-egg question aside, what matters is the passion an individual has for a talent. This includes activities a worker would do even if he or she didn’t have to do it on the job. If a talented manager won the lottery and decided to quit his job, for example, he might be inclined to manage people in a local political campaign or take the helm of his son’s little league team.

3. Attitude – An employee might have one of three general attitudes, according to a branch of study in positive psychology. The first group consists of those individuals who approach their work as a job, who seek only a paycheck and benefits. The second group includes those with a career perspective who seek advancement. Individuals in the third group view their work as a calling and deeply connect with what they do every day.

4. Personality – In 2009, nearly $500 million was spent on personality testing in North America alone. A reliable test isn’t valuable in so much as it reveals differences among workers, which are most likely already apparent. The value of these tests is in showing how and where differences lie. Understanding differences can lead to an appreciation for how and why co-workers perform and improve the synergy of teams.

5. Experience – Who is the person you’re sitting next to at work; who is she when she’s not making business-to-business calls, scheduling meetings or troubleshooting technical problems? How does her race, religion, economic background, family situation and overall lifestyle influence—or not influence—her work life? More importantly, how might her life beyond work offer diversity of thought in the workplace? Life experience should not be overlooked when assessing talent.

6. Virtue – “Value in action, that’s virtue,” Wilson says. Candor, temperance, courage—these traits preempt problems like public scandals, harassment and discrimination and foster a positive moral pragmatism among coworkers and practical wisdom among leaders. With social media continuing to expose bad behavior and employee morale revealed to be at a stunning low, this is a significant quality in the on-going search for the best talent.

When employers think beyond the traditional knowledge and skills required to perform a job, they may find employees with complementary personality traits who can offer a deeper level of engagement than candidates who match them in education and skill but fall short in these other areas.


Trevor Wilson is the CEO of Toronto-based TWI Inc. and creator of the human equity management model. Clients include Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, BNP Paribas and Home Depot. TWI’s approach was instrumental in catapulting Coca-Cola’s South Africa division to the top-performing division worldwide.