If you’re one of the fortunate few currently thinking, “No” then congratulations and good luck to you. But if you’re one of the many who toils day after day, grinding yourself against the millstone, wishing for something different but not knowing what, then please read on and know that you are not alone.
According to this Gallup workplace engagement survey, 63% of employees worldwide “are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.” A further 24% are not “just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness” and spreading negativity to their colleagues.
87% of employees worldwide. That’s a lot of people.
Did you realise this problem was so big? I certainly didn’t.
In 2010, one in every three US workers was considering leaving their job, but a vastly smaller number actually did so, which means that “A lot of unhappy workers are staying put.” Why? Because we believe that’s just the way the world is. Surely liking your job is just a luxury, right? We need to keep earning so we can pay the bills. And who’s to say that we’d be any happier in a different job?
Let’s start by dealing with a few hard truths. First, we do need to work. It’s an economic reality that we need to earn a living in order to buy the things that keep us alive. Number two, not everyone can find their dream job. There are many reasons for this. One is that not everyone has a dream job, something they feel put on earth to do. And that’s okay. Another is that there are only so many spaces in the world for concert pianists and elite athletes, so if this is your dream, your chances of success are small. A third is that landing your dream job takes a certain amount of good luck and sometimes circumstances are simply not kind. Maybe you have a sick relative to take care of, and caring for them understandably takes precedence over landing your dream job.
But the first two of these hard truths – we have to work and not everyone can find a dream job – leave a great many people settling for too little and hating the consequences. In the UK last year, there were almost half a million reported cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression. In Australia, 21% of people take time off work for stress-related reasons. Our work is, quite literally, making us sick.
Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” We spend around a third of our adult lives at work. It matters that almost nine in every ten working adults are spending this much time demotivated and unhappy. It matters that we quietly accept something that is making us stressed, anxious and depressed. I do not know what the overall social impact is of this worldwide demotivation and dissatisfaction, but I suspect that people who go home stressed, depressed and unhappy are not contributing what they could to society and to the common good. And this is no criticism of them: when you are dealing with such things, it becomes truly difficult to give anything of yourself beyond the bare minimum. Demotivation and disengagement at work lead to people disengaging socially.
The negative impact our work currently has on us is a two-headed monster: it makes us sick and unhappy, and it damages the social fabric of our communities by limiting what people are able to contribute. This fact matters – and I find it incredible that there aren’t more people talking about this level of disengagement. Improving the way we experience and feel about our work needs to become a priority. So watch this space to read some of our ideas of what we can do about it.
Dr Andrew Crosbie