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talking management

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile.

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile.

Teresa, you have said there is a disengagement crisis. What do you mean by that and what is causing it?

TERESA AMABILE – There is a disengagement crisis in the United States and I think there is some evidence that it is going on around the world. I am talking about workers' engagement inside organizations. People in organizations across society, across the entire spectrum of age levels and income levels, are becoming quietly disengaged from what they do. What I mean by that is they are less motivated by the work they are doing, they are less satisfied with their jobs.

If you look deeply inside the hearts and minds of people as they are working, as I did in my research, you will find this is endemic across industries. I think it is due to a number of reasons but I think the primary one is that people don't feel that they are being supported in achieving anything in truly meaningful work. At least that's what I have seen in my research and there is some evidence that this is going on across the board.

Let me give you a bit of background data on this – job satisfaction has hit a low point in the U.S. certainly in the last half-year or year. It is even worse then it was at the height of the financial crisis, which is really kind of peculiar. As I said, it seems to be going on across society. When people are less engaged in their work you are going to see slower revenue growth in the company and actually lower profitability. So essentially employee engagement drives the bottom line.

KM – What should a manager do to get greater engagement among their people?

TA – Karl, I think the most important thing that a manager can do to really engage people more deeply in their work is to help them find meaning in what they are doing everyday. That starts with a mission for the organization that is something that people can care about, something that they can rally around, and not just profits or making money for shareholders but something where people feel that they are contributing to something that they can care about.

The Google mission is one of my favourite examples of a really meaningful mission for a company – their mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. I have talked with a number of Google engineers and I know that it is pretty motivational for them and does feel like a mission.

The second piece of it though is that each individual needs to understand how his or her individual actions everyday contribute to that mission and how they are actually making a difference in achieving something that will really make a difference for customers, in terms of providing a useful product or service, or at least will make a difference for the organization.