Science of Self ™ Knowledge Centre

Why 80 Percent of Australians Are Not Engaged

Aug 15, 2012


In one of the most publicised business surveys of 2008, the Gallup Organization found that over 80% of the Australian workforce was not engaged, and that the cost of "employee disengagement" to the Australian economy was… wait for it… around AUS$30 billion per annum.The Australian stats:

  • 18% ‘engaged’ (actively supports the company's goals)
  • 61% ‘not engaged’ (compliant or doing the minimum required)
  • 21% ‘actively disengaged’ (undermining the business)

Interestingly, the results were very similar to many other developed economies…

stats.png                               (The Gallup Organisation Q12 Poll, 2008,

The Cause:

Over their years of research, Gallup found that bad management was the main cause of the low levels of disengagement, showing quite clearly that engaged workers are very satisfied with their managers, while disengaged employees are extremely dissatisfied with theirs.

The Root Cause:

With so many people being demoralised by bad managers, business authors (including Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, Jim Collins, Marcus Buckingham, Clayton Christensen, Jack Weltch) have come to the fore to talk about the need for managers to become more in-tune with managing people as people, with motivations that go beyond money or carrot-and-stick incentives.

The thinking on human motivation, as a scientific filed, is very detailed and the Wikipedia entry is worth visiting if you ever have trouble sleeping. We think (or at least we’d like to argue anyway) that there are 3 thought leaders worth exploring, which are central to understanding the real cause of why so many people are disengaged.

As a super-condensed summary, these are:

1. Abraham Maslow — Hierarchy of Needs (1943)

1This relatively well-known theory suggests that in order to move to the higher levels in the hierarchy one must first satisfy the preceding layer:

  1. Physiological (Food, Sex, Sleep)
  2. Safety (Health, Shelter, Security)
  3. Love/Belonging (Friendship, Family, Intimacy)
  4. Self-Esteem (Confidence, Achievement, Respect of Others)
  5. Actualisation (Creative Fulfilment, Meaning)

The Hierarchy of Needs provides us with a framework to understand the basics for engagement. When we look at layers 1 and 2, we are talking about (in Maslow's terms) 'lower order' needs — things that will make a person very dissatisfied if they are not met. Layers 3, 4 and 5 are what Maslow called 'higher order' needs — these are the ones that contribute to engagement. However, in order to reach the highest level of engagement, a state called self-actualisation, Maslow believed that we needed to understand our inner drives and desires.

2. Frederick Herzberg — Motivation-Hygiene Theory (1968)

2Herzberg broke motivation into two distinct parts. The central idea is that Hygiene Factors can cause you to hate your job, but not love it. Motivators are what causes you to really love your job.

Hygiene Factors:

  • Salary
  • Security
  • Work Conditions
  • Company Policy
  • Supervision


  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • The Work Itself
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement
  • Personal Growth

If we compare Herzberg's theory to Maslow's, they are essentially saying the same thing: there are certain factors that cause dissatisfaction if they are not met, but the factors that lead to engagement are related more to our inner drives and desires.

3. Daniel Pink — Motivation 3.0 (2009)

3Pink examines the key thinkers of motivation, including the work of Maslow and Herzberg, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. His work might be considered less of a theory and more of a commentary on others’ research and common business practices, but he does have a number of important ideas:

  • Motivation 1.0: motivation fuelled by biological needs
  • Motivation 2.0: motivation fuelled by extrinsic rewards and punishment
  • Motivation 3.0: motivation fuelled by intrinsic desires

Pink describes three things as leading to Motivation 3.0:

  • Autonomy: Self-direction in what we do, when we do it, who we do it with and how we do it
  • Mastery: Growing and developing in something that matters
  • Purpose: A reason for the task to be done that connects to a larger meaning

The Common Thread:

The point, the common thread, to the work on human motivation by Maslow, Herzberg, Pink and many others, is the fundamental importance of people’s intrinsic motivators.

Intrinsic simply means that the motivation comes from within; it is driven by interest in the task for reasons of personal importance, rather than external pressure by management.

Many organisations rely on the traditional command and control, or rewards-punishment management practices. They're often draped in things like flexi-time, working from home, and Hawaiian shirt days, but ultimately the drive behind them is extrinsic: "If you do this for me, I'll do that for you."

Pink makes a great comparison of linking this kind of extrinsic motivation to coal. It is cheap and pretty efficient for producing a quick result, however, it produces a lot of pollution (dissatisfies) and there is a finite supply. Intrinsic motivation, by contrast, is more like renewable energy — it comes from within the individual so there is no limit to its ability to motivate that individual.

Maslow, Herzberg, and Pink have all written about the need for work to be of emotional significance to the individual. The power of intrinsic motivators is grounded in the fact that they are different for each individual, and requires managers to get to know what they are for each person. Leaders that are able to tap into the power of intrinsic motivators are the only ones that will be able to produce sustainable, long-term productivity and engagement in their organisations.

Curious to Learn More?

Check out the Workplace Motivators profile page, and request a free sample. This profile involves taking a 10-minute questionnaire online. Once complete, you will receive up to a 24-page, personalised report on your core motivators with tips on how to be more effective when working with others. No hassle, no obligation, no pushy sales person — all done online.

Topics: Psychology- Motivators & Drivers- Profiling & Assessment Tools

Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."


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