If you had a pebble in your shoe, would you stop in your track and remove the pebble? If you have a food item on your plate that you dislike, do you eat it anyway or do you leave it on the plate? Unfortunately, it is not that easy in the workplace. When something is uncomfortable, distasteful, or not nourishing, we tend to be pretty sensitive and remove whatever it is to be more productive and to make it more enjoyable.

So why is it then that so many people put up with unfulfilling workplace situations, such as:

  • resentment toward their bosses
  • disengagement at work
  • procrastination of critical conversations with colleagues
  • dissatisfaction in the workplace and not feeling that they are making a valuable contribution to society, but they stay because they need the paycheck and the company offers good benefits.

Considering that most people spend more than half of their waking hours at work, this seems like a lose-lose situation for both the company and the employees. A Gallup Poll published in 2015 stated that the percentage of U.S. workers who rated themselves engaged in their jobs averaged 32%. The majority (50.8%) of employees considered themselves “not engaged,” while another 17.2% were actually “actively disengaged.” (Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/188144/employee-engagement-stagnant-2015.aspx)

The numbers for Germany look similarly bad: Only 15% of German workers reported that they were engaged in their workplaces, and another 15% were actively disengaged. It costs companies a fortune, namely 275 billion Euros a year. (Source: http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/183851/employees-germany-engaged.aspx)

What are the reasons why so many employees are so disengaged when it comes to workplace contribution, satisfaction, and fun?

We noticed three likely causes:

 1. Perceived lack of time

Many people believe that although they have ongoing interpersonal conflicts, it will take too much time to resolve them through conversations. Not only that, they think that conversations will further complicate matters. Interestingly enough, when a pebble is in the shoe, we will take the time to remove it, even though we may be in a hurry. We stop, take the pebble out and catch up – faster than before. We instinctively know once the pebble is removed, we will feel at ease and perform better while moving forward. Yet, when it comes to relationships and workplaces, most people are resigned to the fact that relationship issues cannot be resolved.

2. Misery loves company

When sharing “boss bashing” stories or when complaining about ineffective meetings, employees often find consolation in group-think: “That’s just the way it is…it’s always the same story. People do not get along. People have stress and no time. Friction and conflict are here to stay.” This negative mindset inevitably exacerbates dissatisfaction and low performance in the workplace.

3. Stress

It is fascinating to notice how many people feel overloaded or stressed on a daily basis. It happens every day when we ask people “How are you doing,” the automatic response is, “Oh, I’m so busy” or “I am stressed out right now.” Because people live busy and stressful lives, their natural cortisol level is already elevated, which means it decreases their tolerance for patience, creativity, new solutions, and empathy. Tunnel vision combined with elevated stress levels impair cognitive abilities and consequently impact effective workplace improvement.

Thankfully, the solutions for most of these workplace frictions are relatively easy. They require the restoration of trust and a fine-tuning of communication skills. They require care, courage, and candor to address the issue in a safe and creative way and to make incremental improvements. Once you change the conversations, you change the workplace.

Key Questions to ask:

  • How does this apply to you and your current workplace situation?
  • Do you feel engaged, not engaged or actively disengaged?
  • What first step could you take to improve your particular situation?
  • If you are a leader what could you offer to your employees to help them become more engaged?

Maybe you have already made a change, and you would like to share your success stories with us to encourage others to also move towards a healthier, happier and more productive personal and professional life.

About the authors: The three authors are based in Germany and the U.S.A. They belong to the inaugural group of 243 coaches that are certified in “Conversational Intelligence®” – a methodology, which combines neuroscience and coaching.

Iris Grimm is a professional coach and trainer located in Atlanta, GA. She works predominately with leaders in the healthcare industry helping them unleash their leadership potential. For more information, visit http://IrisGrimm.com.

Charlotte Weston-Horsmann is an ICF certified Coach and Facilitator for International Leadership Communication. Charlotte uses her unique international expertise to help leaders and teams develop the kind of cultural awareness and leadership communication that sustains trust and boosts performance at every level of the organization.

Ute Franzen-Waschke is a Coach and Communication Skills Expert and holds an MA in Coaching and International Business Communication (WBIS). Ute strongly believes in the power of conversations. Ute is a freelance Coach in the corporate world and works with individuals and teams in English and German. For more information, visit: www.discover-your-choices.de