Alarming news for Ireland’s recovering economy

Did you know that a mere 16% of employees in Ireland are actively engaged in their work? Gallup, a performance management company who published the report on the State of the Global Workplace found that 64% of employees in Ireland are not engaged in their work and the remaining 20% are actively disengaged. In other words, 64% of employees lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in the company’s objectives and 20% are unhappy and unproductive at work which means they are liable to spread a negative attitude to their colleagues.

That sounds like alarming news for a country that is still recovering from a catastrophic economic downturn and get back on it’s financial feet. In terms of employee engagement, we’re actually still above the global average of 13% and the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014 has ranked us 1st in the world for the availability of skilled labour and 1st for the flexibility and adaptability of our workforce. However we’re still way below the engagement rate of the leading countries such as the US (30%), Costa Rica (33%) and Panama (37%).

Think about it: being ranked 1st in the world for a skilled workforce suggests that we arguably have the most potential for economic growth in the world, but if our engagement level is at only 16%, it’s like driving 300 km/h Ferrari at 48km/h. Therefore, we could be losing out on growth opportunities. It’s difficult to know the exact reasons for disengagement in the workforce but I’ll deal with a few commonly held view points. 

Do we not get paid enough?

Let’s start by drawing on the expertise of career analyst and author Dan Pink: "Fact - money is a motivator at work, but in a slightly strange way. If you don't pay people enough, they won't be motivated.” But he says there is a paradox here. 

The key financial measurement is the Active Individual Consumption (AIC) per capita because it reflects a household’s material wealth in purchasing power. The 2014 figures from Eurostat show Irish consumers are 6% below the Europe-wide average. So money could be the main issue, but what else do we need to consider?


Do we not like working hard?

Findings from Eurostat have shown that Ireland does not have longest working hours in Europe - 35 hours per week compared to the EU average of 37.5 hours per week, but it’s fifth most productive country in the EU per hour worked. So it seems like we are hard workers.

Are we distracted by things like the Internet or our co-workers?

If disengagement in modern Irish workplaces is due to distraction by the internet or our colleagues, it would still be very hard to distinguish whether or not it's correlation or causation. In other words, employees could be using the Internet or talking to co-workers when they’re not doing the work rather than not doing the work because they are on the web or talking to colleagues. Even if there was data to support this point, it would vary hugely depending on the individual in question.

Do we not like our jobs?

Perhaps many people don’t like their jobs but they need the money to honour their financial commitments. Gallup found that just one in eight workers are fully involved in and enthusiastic about their jobs, however the vast majority of employees worldwide describe their work as a negative experience in general. 

I’m going to highlight this point because I believe it is the most important issue at this time. It seems like a lack of enjoyment at work is a big issue for many people. What does that mean for young people of Ireland who are yet undecided about their future career paths? In schools, career guidance counsellors are able to help students with this process to some extent - depending on their resources. However, what are we doing to support the disengaged employees in our businesses?

Perhaps companies are nervous about speaking to staff regarding these issues because then the disengaged employees may want to leave the company. That is a possibility, but surely it’s better for a disengaged employee to leave the company if they’re not working effectively. Alternatively, the businesses could help the disengaged employees become more interested in their work, but how?

A simple solution for the companies to implement is to find out whether the workers are having their needs and values met. If all of their needs are met on high levels and if the work aligns with their personal values, many of the fundamental requirements will be in place.

After that, you’ll find that one of the reoccurring issues for people dissatisfied with their work is related to growth opportunities. However this doesn’t always mean that the company must invest large amounts of money in continuous professional development courses, although that may be beneficial. Assigning an employee a senior mentor to guide and direct them, along with providing them with internal learning materials are two cost effective ways of nurturing employee development. Furthermore, providing them with ongoing constructive feedback at agreed upon intervals can prove very valuable in fostering healthy relationships.

Lastly, another strategy for increasing employee engagement is to facilitate the employees in cultivating a personal interest that’s related to the company or to give them unpaid leave to nurture their interest outside the company. If the person wants to make money from their interest outside of the company, they can find someone who has already made money from it and model them, while still maintaining their salary with the company.

I know that this idea is not perfect and that there are problems on the road to any solution. But Imagine a country where the vast majority of people were working and living with passion? The gross domestic product would almost certainly increase, but more importantly, gross domestic happiness would increase too.


  • Ireland might not have longest working hours but it’s EU fifth most productive.
  • Ireland ranks first for availability of skilled labour in the world – IMD Yearbook 2014.
  • Irish people have less extra cash than our European neighbours.
  • Poor us: Ireland is less wealthy than the EU average.
  • Ireland has reduced the number of early school leavers, Eurostat finds.
  • Crabtree, S. (2012) Worldwide, 13% of Employees Are Engaged at Work. Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov 2014].
  • RSA Animate. Pink, D. (2010) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov 2014].
  • Gardner, H. The Nine Types of Intelligence. Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov 2014].
  • Gottfredson, Linda S. (1997). "Mainstream Science on Intelligence (editorial)” Intelligence 24: 13–23.
  • Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, cognition, and personality, 9(3), 185-211.
  • An Irish genius with an IQ of 197 is the inspiration behind a new US TV show.