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One-fifth of US employees are undermining the companies they work for

AP Photo / Axel Heimken
And that’s just the ones you know about.
By Lily Kuo
United StatesPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

More than half of Americans don’t like their jobs, according to a recent poll (pdf). What’s more, up to one in five aren’t just uninspired at work but are actively damaging their companies by draining resources and lowering morale.

According to polling firm Gallup’s survey of about 150,000 full and part-time employees in 2012, 18% of employees could be characterized as “actively disengaged.” These employees take more sick days, monopolize their managers’ time, and perhaps more significantly, spread their discontent among the staff.

“Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish,” the report concludes (p. 21). Gallup estimates that this class of workers costs the US between $450 billion and $550 billion a year in lost productivity.

Respondents were grouped based on their level of agreement to a series of statements (pdf, p. 19) like: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day” or “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.”

Employers can hope that their good employees can beat out the bad, and perhaps sway the majority of simply unmotivated workers. About 30% employees surveyed appeared to be actively and psychologically committed to work but about 50% were unengaged by their work or managers. What might help tip the balance is the fact that actively disengaged employees quit at a higher rate.

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