employee disengaged can be turned aroundMore than two-thirds of U.S. workers (70 percent) are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work, according to Gallup’s annual “State of the American Workplace” report for 2013, which means they are “emotionally disconnected” from their jobs and “less likely to be productive.”

Approximately 100 million people in America hold full-time jobs, yet only 30 percent feel engaged and inspired at work. Look at any three people in your workplace, and statistically only one of them is excited to be there.

That’s bad news for companies that are already struggling to hire and retain talented employees in a competitive global market while trying to embrace the opportunities and challenges of an increasingly mobile workforce, meet the expectations of millennial workers, and help every employee realize his or her full potential.

It’s even worse news if you consider the far-reaching business implications of employee disengagement.

What is the cost of employee disengagement?

Gallup found that actively disengaged employees, which are only 18 percent of the total workforce, are costing the United States between $450 billion and $550 billion every year in lost productivity.

In addition, actively disengaged employees are “more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays and drive customers away.”

How does employee engagement drive business growth?

Gallup’s research with 25 million workers in 189 countries over several years shows a strong link between employee engagement and nine key business outcomes, including productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.

“Engaged employees are the ones who are the most likely to drive the innovation, growth, and revenue that their companies desperately need,” Gallup reports. It’s the engaged workers who build most of the new products and services, come up with most of the innovative ideas, create almost all of their company’s new customers, “and ultimately help spur the economy to create more good jobs.”

How to engage employees and unlock human potential

The Gallup study links employee disengagement, and the problems it brings, directly to bad management. Conversely, good management leads to a direct increase in the number of employees who are engaged at work.

Gallup found that managers who focus on their employees’ strengths can practically eliminate active disengagement in their organizations and double the number of workers who are engaged. So for companies that want to increase employee engagement, the first step is to make sure they have good managers in place, but the study also offers other insights that companies may find useful.

“Engaged employees have well-defined roles in the organization, make strong contributions, are actively connected to their larger team and organization, and are continuously progressing,” Gallup reports. The study also found that employees who spend part of their time working remotely are more engaged than those who are on-site full-time. And even though they don’t have a manager nearby to monitor their behavior, they tend to work longer—an average of four hours longer—than their on-site colleagues.

Unlocking human potential and the future of business

Clearly, unlocking human potential and increasing employee engagement are critical issue as we look at the future of business and develop strategies to ensure ongoing success, not only for individual companies but also for the economy as a whole.