Expert Panel

Common job issues and solutions in Human Resources

Employee Disengagement Continues to Cost Us. We Are Waiting For…?


By Mark Herbert, Principle Mark F. Herbert & Associates, Inc. and New Paradigms LLC

So today is January 10 of a new year. If you put any credibility into the information collected by the Gallup information (and I do), we have lost $10 billion so far this year in potential productivity from the direct and indirect effects of employee disengagement based on their estimate that disengagement costs the U.S. economy $350 billion per year.


Is it just me or does that seem like a pretty significant amount of money to leave on the table?

We can talk about all the reasons this is still occurring like the accuracy of the data, what does engagement really mean, who should be in charge of it, etc., but at the end of the day a billion dollars a day is a billion dollars a day.


Over the last ten days I have had a chance to do a lot of reading (I know you are stunned) and I think the single biggest reasons are inertia and failure to lead.

A couple things I had a chance to read provided me some interesting insights.

  • The first was a reprint from HBR on the leadership model at Toyota using the onboarding of an American executive into their organization. He was a little stunned that with his track record and expertise he went through an onboarding process of almost six months before taking over a production facility. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but the essence was teaching him that the core of leadership is producing excellent first line managers and leaders, and aligning individual and organizational objectives- creating congruency and engagement.
  • The second piece was about a health care organization in Texas that subsidized availability of health care for individuals who had never had access to coverage before. The objective was to involve individuals in the management of their own health and to address health proactively rather than reactively. The result was pretty interesting. Over 70 % of the participants continued to participate in the health care program after the subsidy discontinued even though their personal contribution went up substantially because they found positive results on both their personal health and their economic well- being having made the investment. They became stakeholders rather than codependents. Does this approach sound familiar at all?
  • Another rather illuminating share from a colleague reflected the fact that many executives say that they are no longer engaging in meaningful strategic planning because there is too much ambiguity in their environment.

Wow and here I am thinking that the purpose of leadership is remove ambiguity and provide clarity for the people we expect to follow us.

I guess I have been getting it wrong all these years!

I get an opportunity to receive these kinds of insights almost daily. To me they essentially say the same thing-

To paraphrase Einstein- the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.


For close to a hundred years the majority of organizations have been practicing, and we have been teaching, the same management and leadership models.

  • We call people human capital or human resources and treat them accordingly.
  • We elevate one stakeholder group (shareholders) over all the others and then we ponder why we don’t see meaningful, sustained change.
  • We try to do change to rather than with people and we ignore the 85% of the resistance to change that is emotional or embedded rather than cognitive.
  • We try to create change through technology and processes without foundational considerations like culture, trust, and congruency.
  • We elevate leaders to almost demagogue status and they begin to read their own press clippings and believe that they are always the smartest person in the room about everything.


I have some pretty strong opinions that I like to think have been validated by not only my own experiences, but the data:

  • Leadership is a trust; it comes from those who agree to follow you not a position on an org chart.
  • The pillars of successful leadership are trust, competency, credibility, and the ability to organize and align people.
  • You will never have higher engagement from your customers, shareholders, suppliers, etc. than you have with your employees.
  • Engagement is a journey and a culture not just a process or a program. You never arrive; you work at it every day.
  • Engagement may be created in the Boardroom, but it lives at the frontline. If you have poorly trained or disengaged front line leaders you will not have an engaged workforce.
  • You have to do the work. There are no shortcuts.
  • Engagement is better, way better. It affects every key performance indicator on a sustained basis.

A billion dollars a day, every day just in the U.S. ….

So I ask again- what are we waiting for…?


{#/pub/images/MarkHerbert.jpg}Written by Mark Herbert, Principle Mark F. Herbert & Associates, Inc. and New Paradigms LLC  With over 30 years of managerial, executive, and consulting experience, Mark has authored four books including Managing Whole People-One Man’s Journey; C2C-Compliace to Commitment, A Foundation for Employee Engagement & Building a Culture.  He is a consultant, speaker and facilitator on executive development, strategic human resources, employee engagement, and employment branding on a regional, national, and international basis.


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