I moved to Europe almost five years ago and was introduced to the most magical of all things: vacation time. Well, I was not introduced to it directly--I'm self employed, with 100 percent of my contracts based out of the United States. If I don't work, I don't get paid. But, my husband, neighbors and friends all have, at minimum, four weeks of vacation, plus holidays.

Add perks such as extended, paid maternity leave, 35-hour work weeks, and unemployment that can run for almost two years at 80 percent of salaries, and you'd think you'd located a worker's paradise where all the employees were happy and engaged.

Except that, when it comes to employee engagement, the United States comes in first place, according to a recently released Gallup Survey. Thirty percent of U.S. employees are engaged, compared to nine percent in France and the Netherlands, 15 percent in Germany, and 17 percent in the UK. The overall world average is 13 percent.

Gallup defined engaged employees as those who are "emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organizations every day." And U.S. employees, despite their relatively poor work-life balance, are more emotionally invested and focused on creating value. Does that mean U.S. employees don't value work-life balance? Hardly.

According to a recent Glassdoor survey, 72 percent of American employers feel that vacation, sick time, and holidays are extremely important to their job happiness, behind only health care (76 percent), which admittedly, is mostly a U.S. issue. Only 27 percent of workers felt that development and training was an important workplace issue.

So, we state that vacation is important to our happiness, but the people who are getting it are less engaged than the American work force. What does this all mean? Probably that time off isn't truly as valuable to our happiness as we think it is, and furthermore, that meaningful work is more valuable.

What can you do to make your workforce rise above the 30 percent U.S. average of engagement? And how do you reduce disengagement? That's when employees are actively seeking to undermine their company, and costs the U.S. an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion per year. The Gallup survey finds that engagement lies in the heart of good management:

More broadly, Gallup found that the highest-performing managers find ways to improve employees' lives while helping them improve their work performance. Although some supervisors might expect employees to compartmentalize their work lives and their personal lives, great managers know that the whole person comes to work and that each employee's well-being influences individual and organizational performance.

Which means that the managers that can see individuals--not just numbers or challenges--are the ones who will help your business succeed, because their people will be happy to be at work. Look for ways to say yes, give feedback, and encourage employees to contribute in meaningful ways. Don't manage by rules alone. Do these things, and you'll find you have an engaged workforce that does much better than most of those in the U.S.

Published on: Nov 12, 2013
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