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Let’s rev up the engines of ‘idling’ workers

kr_photoNumerous business publications over the past week covered Gallup’s 2013 study of employee engagement and its findings showing that “seven out of 10 workers in the U.S. have ‘checked out’ at work.”  The report found that certain age groups and those with higher education levels reported more discontent with their workplace. Baby boomers, for instance, are more likely to be “actively disengaged” than other age groups and “employees with college degrees are more likely to be on autopilot at work.”

According to Gallup’s study, idling workers can be difficult to spot.  “They are not hostile or disruptive” and “surprisingly, these people are not only a part of your support staff or sales team, but they are also sitting on your executive committee.”   Similarly, Psychometrics’ 2010 study of 368 Canadian HR professionals working in business, government, consulting, education and not-for-profit organizations found that “disengaged employees do not quit in droves or fail to show up for work”, but “stay and damage both productivity and relationships.”

When reading these articles, I began to think about a term which has emerged over the last few years – Idling Capacity – roughly defined as the untapped intelligence, creativity and innovation of individuals in our workplace.   And as the Gallup survey results suggest, baby boomers are more likely to be disengaged.

Wow!   The thought of all this idling capacity has me thinking about possible solutions.  What if you could really rev up the engines of these older workers?   What would it take to get that idling capacity engaged to the point that these employees could contribute innovative ideas to projects and once again feel engaged in their workplace?

Let’s tackle the subject of idling capacity together, by examining this month’s case:

One of your long-term, very capable employees is three years away from retirement. Their work is acceptable, but you know they have a great deal of experience and insight which is not tapped. The person stays quiet at meetings and now “just does their job.”  You remember a time when they contributed more and you miss their wisdom.  You are also worried that their ‘checked-out’ behaviour could cause resentment with other younger employees who are just beginning their careers.  You would like to see this person not only be a better contributor at work, but you would like to figure out ways to get them more engaged in the workplace. You’re not sure how to approach the person in a constructive manner.

My suggested coaching questions to initiate a conversation with this long-term employee:

  • Joe, you used to be an active participant at meetings, but I’ve noticed over the past year you are much quieter.   We miss your input and would like to hear more from you.  What could we be doing differently to encourage that?
  • You have a great deal of experience and I have been wondering whether we could be making better use of it.  What do you think?
  • Joe, what do you think our younger, newer workers would think if they would be able to hear your insights and wisdom – would it be able to help them develop in their roles?

Leadership coaching exchange:

Tell us how you would handle this coaching situation.





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As a recap, here are the guidelines for this Character Culture Exchange:

  • In the first blog every month, I present a coaching ‘problem’ along with suggested coaching ‘questions’ that would be used in coaching the individual/leader to explore the problem.
  • You send me your suggested coaching ideas (related to the problem at hand) in the space at the bottom of the blog within 5 days of the blog posting.
  • In my mid-month blog, I will post 4-5 different thoughts/ideas from my readers as part of this Coaching with Character Exchange.  Your coaching suggestions (if posted) will be transcribed verbatim, but your name or organization will never be shared without your permission.

Do you have a coaching problem you’d like us to share in an upcoming blog?  Contact Kathleen Redmond and tell her about it.