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By David Harder on June, 5, 2017

The History of Disengagement – (Final Chapter) – What the Bleep Happened?

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

The turn of the century (2000) delivered an unprecedented number of angry, disillusioned, and unmotivated workers to America’s organizations. In 24 years, most businesses had adopted the philosophies of the Meckling / Jensen Paper, Theory of the Firm – Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs, and Ownership.” Shareholder value and market volatility had dominated business choices and we were witnessing a landmark change in the attitudes of America’s workers. With the promise of stability shattered, disloyalty was rampant, on both sides of the fence. The press railed on about the inequity of millions of workers being displaced as the coffers of the investment bankers grew exponentially. Human resource professionals complained about the “broken employment contract” and many of us continued to fixate on the loss of predictability and survival promised by the 300-year-old industrial revolution.

But, a much larger wave grew on the horizon. The technology wave would hit our shores and advance so quickly that it would wipe out work as we knew it. In our programs, I observed that when participants reinvented themselves professionally and made decisions to pursue new lives, many of them made a remark about change. “I’m glad that’s over,” they would say. It was a disquieting remark. Consider how much the wave of change keeps speeding up. Let’s examine how much we have to change to be effective and competitive in today’s landscape of work. Consider how rare the following topics were just five years ago:

Active Learning

We used to get a degree, get a job and retire. Now, the way we communicate, live, work, do business and compete changes every day. Active learners own the future of work. Continuous learning has a big payoff – growth! But, many employees continue to show up to learning sessions resentful for being taken away from their tasks. Without active learning, more of us fall into the scourge of underemployment every day.

Continuous Reinvention

In Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable (Viking Press), he talks about how technological acceleration is pushing us to change so quickly that we no longer have end-points (goals), we are in a constant state of “becoming.” When I launched Inspired Work in 1990, I simply wanted people to be happy with their work. Participants used our curriculum once. After watching thousands of people change, I predicted that in the near future, we would derive much of our joy from growing and changing. Today, many of our participants use our curriculum every day. We live in the world of becoming. As we move from awkwardness in adopting this characteristic to understanding how to benefit from it, we transform – regularly. How exciting!

Flexible Platforms

Technology has untethered much of the world of work from a geographic location. Last week, I was interviewing one of the world’s most prominent coaches. In a matter of just a few years, she had moved from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to a rural area in central California. She serves clients throughout the world and only leaves home to give keynote speeches or engage in work that requires a physical presence.

My literary agent works and lives on a farm.

Today, more and more people are questioning the validity of giving their lives up to hours of daily commuting. Organizations are questioning the value of housing all of their workers under one roof.

Clearly, there are opportunities for anyone who wants to look. But here’s the rub:

According to Gallup’s latest global engagement survey, 87% of the world’s workers, to varying degrees, are disengaged. The trance of disengagement shows up in horrific ways within our culture. We have parents telling their children they will not have as much opportunity as they did, a death sentence to one’s imagination. A significant part of people displaced by layoffs don’t really get back to full employment, they step into underemployment. Many employers operate under the delusion they are going to create engagement by competing for that 13% pool of fully engaged workers. That mindset happens to be an example of disengagement!

I assert that approximately 87% of today’s workers, to varying degrees, don’t know how to change, would like to change but don’t believe they can, or, they are contemptuous of the whole idea. Unless an organization is a category leader, most will have to build engaged workers. We need to teach people how to change through positive self-inquiry and learning the very life skills our schools did not teach us. We need to teach people how to look at the world around them and redefine themselves. We need to instill constant learning as a way of life. We need to show people how to connect with others, build effective support systems, draw healthy attention to themselves and give that attention to others. We need to look each other in the eyes…and learn how to smile.

Our political leadership is so behind on this topic that we are still fueling the notion that old jobs will come back. One senator said that we ought to be, “teaching steel workers to become truck drivers.” Truck driving! America’s #1 job for men is about to be upended by self-driving technology so accurate that insurance companies and truck owners already see the writing on the wall. As 3D printing upends assembly lines, warehousing, and shipping, instead of telling people to stand in line with 1,000 other workers for one job, why don’t we show them how to become entrepreneurs manufacturing their own goods with 3-D printing?

This is why we must be at war with disengagement and why we must step out of the trance. Based on how we were equipped from the industrial revolution, our capacity to absorb change was outstripped years ago. They need our help, not our damnation, or worse, our inaction.

How can we possibly expect full engagement if we don’t teach ourselves and the people around us to change?

Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.

P: (310) 277-4850 / E:

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