Are ‘Prisoners’ Weighing Down Your Workplace?

Employees who are engaged perform better, are more committed, and are more motivated at their jobs. Workplace prisoners on the other hand, do the exact opposite. What do they look like, and what should organisations do about them?

Are ‘Prisoners’ Weighing Down Your Workplace?

29 Dec 2016 by  Stephen Hickey

Employees who are engaged perform better, are more committed, and are more motivated at their jobs. These are the employees who help companies achieve their goals. Workplace prisoners on the other hand, do the exact opposite. 

What do workplace prisoners look like?

Workplace prisoners—employees who are not engaged and not motivated, but also not interested in leaving their jobs—make up 8% of the global workforce. In fact, our case studies have shown that goes beyond intent; workplace prisoners are indeed more likely to stay at a company than the average employee.

Chances are, most workplace prisoners have been at their company for a long time. An employee who has worked at a company for less than a year has an approximately 6 percent chance of being a workplace prisoner. However, once they’ve worked there for 26 years, the likelihood goes up to 17.1%. 

Many of them also tend to perceive their pay as low, though objectively, they are competitively paid. However, when workplace prisoners realise that they are paid more than their worth, they’ll stay.

What can you do about them?

Here are the three steps to deal with workplace prisoners:

1. Identify them

If you’re already measuring employee engagement at your company, it’s easy to start identifying your prison population. At Aon Hewitt, we’ve developed the SAY-STAY-STRIVE model to measure employee engagement and can help you identify your workplace prisoners.

Engaged employees SAY positive things about their employer, STAY with the company, and STRIVE to perform better. Workplace prisoners fulfil the STAY portion of this model, but fail at the other two.

2. Initiate change

Once you have identified your workplace prisoners, it’s time to address the issue. Given that only 40% of workplace prisoners feel that their manager provides encouragement to do their best, these conversations become especially important.

  • Speak to the employees frankly—tell them they are not fulfilling their potential. 
  • Ask for their perspective and opinions.
  • Discuss what makes them feel accomplished, and how they want their career to progress.
  • Put them on performance improvement plans, or move them into other roles.

HR professionals should start by educating managers and leaders on the importance of having engaged employees. Then, they can train them to have these difficult but important conversations with their disengaged employees. 

3. Consider engagement when you hire, fire, and promote


It isn’t enough for companies to understand the importance of having engaged employees. They must also demonstrate that they value engagement with the decisions they make. 

Leaders must factor in engagement when hiring, firing, or promoting employees. Doing so will set very clear expectations and tone for the rest of the company, and send a strong message that engagement is non-negotiable.

Start a conversation with us

Need help eliminating the prison population in your workplace? Get in touch with us.

Stephen Hickey

Stephen Hickey is a Partner in Aon Hewitt's Performance, Reward and Talent business in Australia and is the Executive Sponsor of its Engagement Practice in Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa. Stephen's areas of expertise include employee engagement improvement, leadership development, talent management and change management.

Get in touch
Stephen Hickey
Sydney, Australia
Mollie Kohn
Mollie Kohn
Sydney, Australia
Zelia Lim
Zelia Lim
Singapore
Back