Collaborative Leadership Blog

Millennials & the Work Engagement Gap

According to Gallup, in 2014, 68.5% of all US workers are either not engaged or totally disengaged from their work. Only 31.5% are engaged. How can we compete in a global economy with numbers like these? Gallup defines “engaged employees as those who are involved in, (are) enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” (Gallup, “Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014”, January 28, 2015). What is even more concerning is that the numbers are even worse for Millennials, at 71.1% disengaged. This does not bode well for business in the future since by 2025, they will make up 75% of the global workforce (Forbes, January, 2016).

Workers, in general, are disengaged because they “own” very little, if any, of their work lives. This is even more true for Millennials. They may agree with the company’s vision and mission, but are not part of creating it. They may be somewhat aware of the business strategy, but don’t see how it relates to them or their futures. They are usually grateful to have a job, but they don’t own it; it typically belongs to their managers or supervisors. And yet they are evaluated based upon whether they produce as if they do “own” them. It is an upside-down work world. They are “disengaged”, quite simply, because they have been disengaged by their leadership.

Clearly, there is an Engagement Gap that is turning our workers off, turning our Millennials away, and can only result in less creativity, productivity, and profitability in the future.

We know that “people take care of what they own—they don’t wash rented cars”. Total engagement means full ownership—of the vision, mission, strategy, teams, jobs, and work processes—especially for Millennials. Our workers want autonomy, not control. They want high EQ, not low. They want openness and transparency, not closed systems. They want teams and relationship, not hierarchy or bureaucracy. They want to be coached, not told what to do or to be micro-managed. They accept and want diversity rather than white male-driven organizations. They want opportunity and to be developed so that they can be their best selves.

For decades, workforces across industries have consistently expressed their desire for Total Engagement. Has anyone been listening? A few companies have—the Fortune “100 Best Places to Work” companies, like WL Gore or Google, have realized that total engagement empowers their workers to do their very best work.  If companies are ever going to close the Engagement Gap, and if they are ever going to attract and retain the majority Millennial workforce that will dominate the workforce in just a few years, leadership needs to explore and adopt Total Engagement strategies.


*Dr. Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an award-winning consultant and author, and Managing Partner of The Marshall Group, LLC. You can contact him at: or  919.265.9616