Every one of us has either personally felt the pain of knowing they weren’t fully engaged at work or at home (or both), has an important person in his or her life experiencing this or perhaps manages a team that is struggling with disengagement.
While I’ve always believed this to be true, it really hit me over the head, literally, just how big a problem this is.
Two years ago I was on a business trip flying from my home in San Francisco to a client in Salt Lake City. I was on a small commuter plane that had a two and two seat configuration. I was getting comfortable in my aisle seat when a gentleman who had the window seat next to me approached. He had stopped to put his small bag in the overhead compartment when the laptop computer he was holding slipped and hit me in the head!
Thankfully it was just a glancing blow and no blood was drawn, but he was very upset and wanted to make sure I was okay. After assuring him I was fine, we entered in to some small talk before the flight took off.
During the trip at some point he opened up his computer to work and when glancing over I saw the logo from my former company pop up on the screen. I asked if he worked for them and he said ‘no,’ but rather that he was a videographer for an advertising agency and they were a client of his. He then asked me if I worked for them and I explained that I was one of their retirees and was currently working on my first book about employee disengagement and interviewing people who experienced the pain of this.
My lovely seatmate, who was a white male about 35 years old, then pulled out his business card and said, “you need to talk to me, I’m going through this now as I try and figure out what’s next”.
We exchanged cards and he went back to work and I to reading my magazine. A few minutes later I feel a tap on my right shoulder from my across-the-aisle seatmate.
This time it was a charming African American woman in her mid 40’s and she leaned over and whispered that she didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but she wanted to give me her card as well.
She told me that she had realized she was so disengaged that she asked for a transfer to a new job with her company and was moving from Salt Lake City to San Francisco. When I asked her what she did and who she worked for she put a finger to her lips to silence me and pointed to the pin on the lapel of her shirt. It was from the airline we were flying on!
When we arrived at our destination a number of us were standing in the jet way to wait for our bags.
A beautiful white woman in her 60’s came and stood next to me and told me she didn’t mean to eavesdrop either but was sitting behind me on the plane. She said the conversation resonated with her because she had just taken early retirement when she realized she had also lost the passion for what she did and knew she was disengaged.
As I got my bag and walked toward my rental car I laughed to myself and thought what if I had gotten on a microphone on the flight and asked who else wanted to share their story with me. I think it might have been a large percentage of the passengers.
This experience showed me that disengagement truly doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you are a secretary, a manager or a C-suite executive. It doesn’t matter if you are African American, Hispanic or Caucasian. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. It doesn’t matter if you live in the city or in the country.
With 69% of the U.S. workforce and 87% globally identifying themselves as disengaged, it’s bound to happen that someone sitting next to you is feeling the pain of this epidemic. We just don’t always know it because it’s normally a silent disease.
Who said flying isn’t educational and eye opening? This trip certainly was for me!
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