‘Just paying the bills’: The cost of disengagement

Last week Union Home released some fascinating polling as part of its Fair Work Commission. For me, the most striking finding was the number of people who are clearly not engaged in their work.


An astounding 61% of employees said that their current job was ‘just a way to pay the bills until I find something else to do’, rather than seeing it as a step in a longer career. Interestingly women and part time staff were more likely to agree with this. The biggest disparity was in terms of socio-economic group – semi-skilled and casual workers were more than twice as likely just to see their job as purely a way to get by compared to professionals and senior managers. It is downtrodden workers at the bottom who feel least engaged and enthusiastic.


These starling findings tally with research by Kenexa who found that only around a third of employees in the UK can be seen as engaged. The figure of two thirds of employees who exhibit low levels of engagement matches closely the 61% who see work just as a means of getting by.


This is bad news for workers, for employers and for the country as a whole. Working a job in which you see no prospects, progression or purpose can be hugely dispiriting for the individual. Employers with disengaged staff struggle to get the best from them and are likely to face lower levels of performance and higher rates of absence, turnover and grievance. The net result for the country of this ‘engagement deficit’ is lower productivity; estimated as being equivalent to £25.8bn of GDP. The lack of engagement at work represents a massive waste of potential, both human and economic.


So what can we do about this? Asides from providing opportunities for training and development, we know that one of the key drivers of employee engagement is feeling able to have a say and being listened to. In short, employee voice matters. That is why we’re working with organisations to help them get a better understanding of how voice works and how to support it.


Trade unions can also play a vital role in supporting voice and engagement at work. The survey showed that union members are over 10% more likely to see their job as a step in a long-term career. At their best, unions can provide a greater sense of community and solidarity; involve staff in strategic decision-making; and support members to develop their skills and make the most of their potential. They can help make every job a meaningful job and part of a wider career.


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