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Employment | Jim Clifton
China will become the global economic leader sometime in the next 10 to 25 years, according to many economists. This means China - and not the United States - will have the largest GDP in the world, which will, of course, be a global game-changer. She who has the gold makes the geopolitical rules.
But China faces some serious challenges on its road to dominance. Some obvious ones:
Enormous environmental problems that will require billions of dollars to fix.
The family planning policy, which will create a scenario of far too few workers supporting far too many retirees.
Economic uncertainty, if China's GDP - increasing at more than 8 percent - continues to grow at a decreasing rate.
Rising factory wages, which may cause China to lose its huge competitive advantage over other countries, some that may offer labor at a lower cost.
To this list of well-known woes and concerns, let me add one you probably don't know, but which is perhaps the most serious of all: low workforce engagement.
I know that sounds soft at first, but human beings spend at least one-third of their lives at work, and because of this, one could argue that a person's quality of life is driven by their life at work. And the working citizens of China are doing horribly.
Barely 6 percent of the people who work for an organization report being engaged at their jobs. In addition, about 26 percent are flat-out miserable - what Gallup researchers call actively disengaged. To put that into perspective, the US workforce is about 30 percent engaged and 20 percent actively disengaged.
If you were to ask me what the most dangerous state of mind in China is right now, I'd say it's this active disengagement in the workplace, because it is so widespread.
The cause of this disengagement is the same in China as it is in every workplace around the world: The workers despise their immediate boss. And the reason they hate their boss is because the wrong person was hired to be boss. It is really that simple.
How does this happen? Well, I know just enough about the Chinese workplace to know that control is of huge cultural importance. The type of people who are named boss in China command and control their "underlings," and those underlings do as they're told. People are not named manager for their ability to develop and engage employees.
But this command-and-control approach doesn't work in the new global workplace, where employees demand more autonomy, want more freedom of thought and action, and desire to be more empowered and engaged.
Old top-down management, the type that's entrenched in China, just doesn't work anymore. Plus, increasing globalization and access to media gives more workers in China a look at what life is like in other places. This, no doubt, creates a dangerous gap between their world and what they see is happening outside of their country.
What employees really want is reflected in the 12 survey items that Gallup developed from decades of research studying companies and organizations around the world. This is a global standard, one that cuts across all cultures. China's national workforce will be transformed - becoming highly productive and engaged - when its organizations hire and develop managers who inspire employees to score highly on these.
1. I know what is expected of me at work.
2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
12. In the last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.
These are the 12 most important, and most predictive, workplace elements Gallup has uncovered. China's societal advancement - or collapse - lies within these metrics, as employee engagement boosts productivity, quality, customer engagement, retention, safety, and profitability.
It would be wise for all Chinese executives and managers to consider how they can deliver these simple, yet transformational, demands of the workplace.
If Chinese leaders were to move their current spectacularly bad nationwide score of barely 6 percent engaged workers to just 20 percent engaged, the country would be a completely different place - one with a much brighter, more stable future.
My prediction: As China's nationwide employee engagement goes, so goes the country's rise to world leadership. But it's going to be awfully tough for the country to raise its percentage of engaged workers from 6 percent to 20 percent in the next 10 years if organizations keep choosing the wrong people to manage and lead.
The good news is that, while the lack of engagement of its workforce is China's biggest problem - bigger, I'd argue, than pollution, the effects of the family planning policy, rising labor costs, etc - it's actually the easiest to fix.
The author is chairman and CEO of Gallup Inc.
(China Daily 02/21/2013 page17)