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Editorial: Otherwise Engaged; In Vermont, It’s a Labor of Like

“Why Vermont? From major corporate headquarters to small companies with a global reach, Vermont’s economy is diverse, full of innovation and propelled by a world-class workforce.”

Perhaps the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development might want to consider revising that website pitch. Perhaps something like, “... Vermont’s economy is diverse, full of innovation and propelled by workers who will give your their best effort but not necessarily their souls.”

The change would reflect the latest findings by Gallup pollsters who, according to a VtDigger story published in the Valley News, surveyed employees around the country and determined Vermont workers to be underwhelmed about the joys of work. In fact, only Minnesota had a workforce that beat out the Green Mountain state on the “Is-it-Friday-yet?” scale.

The Gallup people framed the results in terms of workplace engagement. Surveying more than 150,000 employees, and at least 500 in each state, they somehow figured out how to lump all employees into one of three groups based on their level of “emotional engagement”: actively engaged, not engaged, actively unengaged. Nearly 20 percent of the Vermont employees surveyed qualified for the “actively unengaged” rating, which Gallup described as being emotionally uninvolved with work to a degree that they might “jeopardize the performance of their teams.” Sort of like the Red Sox a couple of years ago, we suppose.

On the other end of the scale was Louisiana, where fully 37 percent of the workforce was made up of people who could barely stop themselves from setting their alarm clocks earlier so as to not miss out on any of the swell stuff that happens at work. In fact, the South in general — home to those same states that perform so abysmally on such things as education and health — was just about overrun with eager beavers. Seven of the top 10 states were located below the Mason-Dixon line.

We’re not sure that the Vermont economic development people are going to want to tout these findings, but we’re also not sure that they necessarily reflect poorly on the state — and not just because enthusiasm gets tiresome in short order. For example, the Gallup people, while not offering a definitive explanation for their findings, suggested that there may be a demographic link. The states with the highest levels of disengaged employees also tended to have larger percentages of baby-boomers and Generation X-ers — in other words, people who have been doing the 9-to-5 thing (9:15 to 4:30, if the boss isn’t paying close attention) for a while.

Might we suggest that with age and experience comes wisdom? What those employees have figured out is pretty simple: Work can be gratifying, colleagues can be enjoyable and dealing with the public can be, well, anything, but there’s more to life than labor. Perhaps those experienced employees have decided to give their employers fair value for the paycheck, but also have vowed to do it as efficiently as possible so they can spend more time with their families and read, garden, ski, play video games or whatever other activities they find fulfilling.

So, here’s what we’d say to members of the job-creating class who might be put off by the Gallup findings: Hey, stuff gets done in Vermont. Not all of your employees are going to be thrilled by the privilege of spending 40 hours a week at your enterprise, but they’ll do their work — and they’re likely to reserve some of their exuberance for other endeavors, which ultimately makes them healthier human beings (and better employees).