China has a serious workplace problem: Workers hate their bosses

In China, 26% of workers are flat-out miserable.
In China, 26% of workers are flat-out miserable.
Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File
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This originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Jim Clifton here 

China will become the global economic leader sometime in the next 10 to 25 years, according to many economists. This means China — and not the United States — will have the largest GDP in the world, which will, of course, be a global game changer. She who has the gold makes the geopolitical rules.

But China faces some serious challenges on its road to dominance. Some obvious ones are enormous environmental problems that will require billions of dollars to fix; economic uncertainty, if China’s GDP — which has been increasing at about 8% — continues to grow, but at a decreasing rate; fast-rising factory wages, which may cause China to lose its huge competitive advantage over other countries, some that may offer labor at a lower cost; and growing political and social instability, as is evident in the increasing demonstrations and protests throughout the country.

To this list of well-known woes and concerns, let me add one more, and it’s perhaps the most serious of all: low workforce engagement.

I know that sounds soft. But human beings spend at least one-third of their lives at work. And because of this, I could argue that a person’s quality of life is driven by his or her life at work. And the working citizens of China are doing horribly; 6% of the people who work for an organization report being engaged at their jobs. In addition, about 26% are flat-out miserable — what Gallup researchers call actively disengaged. To put that into perspective, the U.S. workforce is about 30% engaged and just under 20% actively disengaged.

If you were to ask me what the most dangerous state of mind in China is right now, I’d say that it’s active disengagement in the workplace, because it’s so widespread. The cause of disengagement in China is the same as it is in every workplace around the world: The workers despise their immediate boss. And the reason they hate their boss is because the wrong person was hired to be the boss. It’s that simple.

How does this happen? Well, I know just enough about the Chinese workplace to know that control is of enormous cultural importance. The type of people who are named “boss” in China command and control their “underlings,” and those underlings do as they’re told. People are not named manager for their ability to engage and develop employees.

But this command-and-control approach doesn’t work in the new global workplace, where employees demand more autonomy, want more freedom of thought and action, and want to be more empowered and engaged. Old top-down management, the type that’s entrenched in China, just doesn’t work anymore.

What employees really want is reflected in the 12 items that Gallup developed to measure employee engagement through decades of research studying companies and organizations around the world. This is a global standard, one that cuts across all cultures. China’s national workforce will be transformed — becoming highly productive and engaged — when its organizations hire and develop managers who inspire employees to give high scores on these items.

These are the 12 most important, and most predictive, workplace elements Gallup has discovered. China’s societal advancement — or collapse — lies within these elements, as employee engagement boosts productivity, quality, customer engagement, retention, safety, and profitability.

1. I know what’s expected of me at work.

2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

4. In the last seven days, I received recognition or praise for doing good work

5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

7. At work, my opinions seem to count.

8. The mission and purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

9. My associates are committed to doing quality work.

10. I have a best friend at work.

11. In the last six months, someone at work talked to me about my progress.

12. In the last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

It would be wise for all Chinese executives and managers to consider how they can deliver on these simple, yet transformational, demands of the workplace. If Chinese leaders were to change their current spectacularly bad nationwide score of 6% engaged workers to 20% engaged workers, the country would be a completely different place — one with a much brighter, more stable future.