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Worker Motivation Is Sky High. So Why Is Checking Out So Common?


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3 min read

Imagine it’s the end of the year. You arrange a meeting with your boss to kick off another highly motivated and productive year of work. Then, as you’re walking out the door, you mention that you’ll be back to get started on Valentine’s Day.

Sound crazy? In this scenario, it certainly does. But according to a new survey from CITE Research conducted among over 1000 American knowledge workers, many workers are doing this, albeit in a more indirect manner.

Understanding the motivation-disengagement paradox

Virtually everyone checks out at work from time to time, but some disengage for a concerning amount of time. Approximately one-third of workers (34 percent), including employees who say they are motivated at work, check out for at least one hour each day. (Note: This is beyond lunch and other scheduled breaks.) This equates to more than six weeks of checked out time at work a year or not starting work until February 14.

This finding is even more surprising when you consider that 93 percent of respondents say they are motivated at work and 88 percent are committed to doing their best work.

This paradox is particularly pronounced among millennial and Gen Z workers. Despite being highly motivated at work, these younger generations of workers are nearly twice as likely as their Gen X and boomer counterparts to disengage at work for an hour or more (43 percent vs. 23 percent).

How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? If workers are extremely motivated, then why are they disengaging so frequently?

It’s important to note that checking out on occasion is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s healthy and beneficial to do so. Supporting research shows that scheduling a couple of 10-15 minute breaks during the day to detach from the workplace actually helps boost productivity and motivation. But checking out in excess of an hour each day signals organizations need to do a better job of engaging their workforce.

The disconnect between motivation and disengagement may also reflect the intensity of the seemingly endless flow of information. Our recent app overload research found that 70 percent of workers find today’s communications volume challenging to getting work done. The sheer quantity of today’s communications can be difficult to manage for even the most gung-ho employees.

How to help workers become their best selves at work

While occasional breaks are encouraged, the severity of disengagement uncovered in this research underscores that business leaders need to take steps to make their workplaces more engaging.

Based on the insights from the research, here are three tips to drive stronger engagement, motivation and productivity at work:

Following these recommendations are a surefire way to create the right environment for employees to become their best selves at work. Pressing pause is a necessity for employees, but leaders have a responsibility to help them strike the right balance in this always-on era of work.

Check out the infographic and other key findings from the new RingCentral survey.

Originally published Nov 01, 2018, updated Aug 12, 2020

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