Eroding Spirit in the Workplace
By William Dann
In my introduction to the 2 nd edition of Creating High Performers, I write the following:
“One takeaway from implementing the 7 Questions method is that lack of
fulfillment from work constitutes a spiritual crisis for many in the workforce.
A second takeaway is that higher performance and happier employees are
attainable through a change in management practice”
I will delve into the needed change in management practice in future blogs. Let’s
consider why I believe this erosion is occurring and why it matters.
I use the word spirit defined as follows: 1) the nonphysical part of a person, which is the
seat of emotions and character; the soul. 2) A specified emotion or mood, especially
prevailing at a particular time
Let’s begin with some basics. One’s life consists of a series of games we choose to
play. By games, I mean actions aimed toward a purpose/goal, played in an arena with
available freedoms and barriers to overcome. We “win” the game when we overcome
the obstacles and realize our purpose or goals. We play the game of education in our
young life (to one degree or another), we play a job or career, we play marriage,
friendship, sports, etc. Some play the game of work or job merely to survive and have
the funds for games they consider more important. For others, the game of employment
or career is vital.
The Gallup employee engagement studies measure the value to employees of their
employer and the work they do. Numerous studies attest that engaged employees are
more productive, and organizations with engaged employees are more profitable. That’s
why employee engagement has become a focus for HR and senior management
professionals. Gallup measures trends in engagement and overall well-being, the latter
consisting of 1) liking what you do every day, 2) meaningful friendships, 3) financial
well-being, 4) physical well-being, and 5) community well-being, defined as liking where
you live. Gallup found a strong correlation between engagement scores and well-being
scores. In short, our work life, in large part, determines our well-being or spiritual health.
Despite the attention to engagement, those highly engaged are declining, from 36% in
2020 (a high point) to 32% in 1922.
So, what’s going on (or not) for these employees, and why the decline? Why the crisis?
In the book, I devote chapters to consideration of the “Won’t Do” employees who are
“actively disengaged” and pose a hidden threat to organizational success. Most have
given up on the game of career or work and are simply surviving at work. The latest
Gallup studies show that 13% fall into this category.
Then, the larger “not engaged” group constitutes 52 % of the workforce. They are
producing below their potential, and most are seeking other jobs in search of meaning,
an active career/skill development program, and meaningful relationships in the
Engagement scores are lowest among younger generations, who constitute an
increasing percentage of the workforce. Gallup reports that Gen Zers, born after 1997,
have an engagement rate of 31%, adding, “Many don’t find their work purposeful, and
some don’t see meaningful career advancement opportunities. They are quiet-quitting in
record numbers and refuse to go above and beyond to achieve team goals. For Gen Z,
personal mental well-being is a top priority, and they aren”t willing to trade present
sacrifice for future promises. Gone is the extra work hustle to stand out” 1 . In short, the
game work as it presents itself is not worth playing.
There are two root causes of this crisis. First, the work needs more purpose and
meaning, as is increasingly the case for Gen Zers. If the organization is simply about
1 “Gen Z Has an Employee Engagement Problem. Here’s How to Solve It”, SHRM Execute Network, Dec. 29, 2022
making money versus somehow making life or community better, they don’t engage.
The lack of a clear, earnest path to career advancement also diminishes the importance
The second root cause is a lack of relationships at work. When in a relationship with
someone, what happens to them on some level happens to me. They win, I win. They
suffer; I suffer. A workplace where “relationship” is simply a transaction, i.e., you do the
work and get the pay, does not meet this test. Gallup studies affirm that those with
meaningful relationships at work are far less likely to see new employment even though
they don’t like their job per se. Also, the lack of a real relationship with the manager
translates to a perception of a lack of interest in the employee and contributes to
Current literature speaks to efforts to get workers to return to the office. Gallup reports,
“Movements to attain ‘work-life balance,’ implement four-day workweeks and expand
remote work are now everywhere. But more than the hours, imbalance, or location
leaves workers unhappy. What’s happening at work makes them miserable”2
Estimates of those seeking new jobs in 2023 range from 56% to 92%. This is spiritual
and economic because of its impact on our global competitiveness.
Given that we spend most of our waking hours at work, lack of fulfillment at work robs
life of meaning. Work and life should and can be much more.
Because the supervisor or people-manager relationship is most important and “bad
bosses” are overwhelmingly the highest cause of unwanted turnover, changing how we
select, train, and hold people managers accountable must be the focus of changes in
management practice. In future blogs, I will speak to these needed changes as follows:
- Changing criteria for selecting and promoting supervisors (people managers,
- The need to train people managers and provide them with tools before
- The importance of and the how-to of creating and maintaining meaningful
relationships with those whose engagement, performance, and growth you are
- Holding people managers accountable for engagement and employee
development and not just supervision or oversight
- Defining employee career goals and methods to aid their journey
2 Gallup, “State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report”, p. 3
- Implementing feedback loops that give people managers data they need to improve
- Focusing engagement programs at the people manager vs. organization level
In Creating High Performers, I offer a methodology to get there. We will provide videos
on the soon-to-be-launched Question Method website to support you getting there. We
welcome your questions, comments, and wins. Contact me at email@example.com