• Catherine Hansen MD, MPH

A slow death by disengagement

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

I met with some colleagues yesterday to discuss disengagement in healthcare. Studies reveal that only 57% of healthcare workers considered themselves engaged, a steadily declining proportion. Sadly 30% are “just contributing” and 13% admit to being “actively disengaged” or “hostile” (1). Our conversation turned to creative and dynamic solutions that would encourage participation and re-engagement in hospital teams, in service to better patient care. The dialogue was productive. But despite the optimism in the room, I couldn’t help but wonder how we can even start this discussion without consideration of what makes a person disengage to begin with. The hospital and healthcare environment are challenging, this is true. But are they unique?

I think not.

The problem of disengagement is widespread, encompasses all disciplines and workplaces and permeates every walk of life. I received a much-needed slap in the face when a millionaire friend of mine confided, “I hate my life”. The slap was a wake-up call that every single one of us is vulnerable. We all think there is something we need or want that we don’t have and it leads to an over-riding sense of lack and feeling incomplete.

Studies reveal that, with income to a certain level (approximately $60 to 75k annually), happiness increases but beyond that amount there is no further increase and other markers may be worse (stress, missing out on small pleasures), (2, 3).

Bottom line, we all grasp for something different that creates an insatiable hunger. For many, we go to work, we go home, we participate in the responsibilities of life but we don’t really feel. Somewhere the joy has been lost. With so much to do and so many external measures of success, we don’t take the time to be “in” our lives. We rush through hoping someday will be different; time will expand and we will finally be able to relax. We are completely disconnected from ourselves.

It is this inner disconnection that breeds the wider problem of disengagement. At work. At home. In families. In life. People are just going about their day lost in the noise. And often numbing the pain that goes hand-in-hand with disconnection. Numbing with alcohol, drugs, food, screen time or just too many hours at the office. Some people can even make their numbing-agent of choice seem like a badge of honor. It’s still numbing. It’s still disconnection.

Re-engagement in the workforce, any workforce, has got to start inside each of us. A reconnection to what really matters. To passions and people, instead of misguided priorities and just “pushing through”.

A reconnection to joy, to love, to loved ones, to play.

A reconnection to free time and finding space to just BE. To think. To feel. To allow. To accept.

Remarkably, when we look for it, it’s all there just waiting to be heard. It’s in the chipmunks, the trees, the water, the breeze. It’s in you and me and especially our kids. They seem to get it even if we don’t, unless (and until) we squeeze it out of them.

You don’t have time, you say? Really? What are you rushing for? Where is your striving taking you? When will you find the joy that your life is intended to bring?

The time is now. You don’t have another minute to waste.

Kids grow up. Age advances. Loved ones die.

It’s time to reflect on where you are and where you want to be. It’s time to acknowledge that there will never be a better time. It’s time to feel excited about life and excavate the parts of you that have been hidden for too long. The fun parts. The passionate parts. The creative parts. The parts that don’t have all the answers. Dig them out and get out of their way.

What happens next may surprise you. It’s almost guaranteed to surprise you!

As I returned from my inner dialogue to our healthcare conversation, I was sharply reminded that ROI, also, increases when employees engage, actively participate and deeply care about organizational success. If personal pleasure, harmony and connection are not enough, there is cold hard cash, saving lives and institutional productivity to enjoy. Measurable attributes include workplace satisfaction, employee retention, effective team function and a mutual sense accomplishment.

For so many, going to work every day is a necessity that expands into most waking hours and without a shared vision it is a marvelous waste of time. To numb, push through, persevere or actively disengage means you are missing collaborative learning experiences with your team, memory-making moments and the preciousness of life itself.

Reclaiming your life starts with one simple move – to know you need it - to know you’re worth it and to believe that peace, joy and love are just around the corner.

If you’re prepared to Reclaim your life or want access to resources for your workplace to do the same, we have workshops up for the challenge. For women who yearn for a deeper connection with life, The Empowered Women’s Circle is a safe place to rest.



1.Employee engagement in healthcare: three key ingredients to cultures that save more lives. Omaha, Neb.: Quantum Workplace; 2015. Available: https://tinyurl.com/y6ptpce2

2. Kahneman, D and Deaton, A. High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. PNAS September 21, 2010 107 (38) 16489-16493; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1011492107

3. Jebb A., Tay L., Diener E. and Oishi S. Happiness, income satiation and turning points around the world. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0277-0

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