Employee Engagement Needs a Rebound

Recent Gallup survey findings: after trending up in recent years, employee engagement in the U.S. saw its first annual decline in a decade — dropping from 36% engaged employees in 2020 to 34% in 2021. This pattern continued into 2022, as 32% of full- and part-time employees working for organizations are now engaged, while 18% are actively disengaged. Active disengagement increased by two percentage points from 2021 and four points from 2020.

The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged workers in the U.S. is 1.8-to-1, down from 2.1-to-1 in 2021 and 2.6-to-1 in 2020. This is the lowest ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees in the U.S. since 2013, almost a decade earlier. The record high is a ratio of 2.7-to-1 recorded in 2019.

The decline began in late 2021. The 32% of engaged employees in 2022 is equivalent to the percentage in the second half of 2021. The engagement elements that declined the most from the pre-pandemic record-high engagement ratio in 2019 to 2022 were:

  • clarity of expectations
  • connection to the mission or purpose of the company
  • opportunities to learn and grow
  • opportunities to do what employees do best
  • feeling cared about at work

Gallup found a six-point decline in the percentage of employees who are extremely satisfied with their organization as a place to work. These are all indications that employees are feeling more disconnected from their employers. Clarity of expectations was lower across many demographic groups including age, gender, managerial status, remote working status, and job types. Other engagement elements were affected differently across demographic groups.

  • Age: Younger workers’ engagement was impacted more than older workers. Engagement for those under age 35 (young millennials and Gen Zers) decreased by four points and active disengagement in this same group increased by four points compared with before the pandemic. Engagement among older workers (those 35 years and older) decreased by two points and the percentage actively disengaged in this group increased by one point.
  • Gender: Women experienced more of a decline in engagement than men. Engagement among women declined by four points and active disengagement increased by three points. Engagement among men declined by only one point and active disengagement increased by the same amount.
  • Job Type: Engagement declined the most among individual contributors and project managers — the same group that saw the largest increase in the percentage who are actively disengaged. Engagement among project managers declined by six points and active disengagement increased by four points.

Among job types, engagement declined the most among healthcare workers (seven points) from 2019 to 2022. White-collar workers saw a four-point decline in the percentage engaged. For both healthcare and white-collar workers, nearly all of the shift from engaged employees was into the “quiet quitter” (aka not engaged) category as opposed to actively disengaged.

  • Remote and On-Site Jobs: For those in hybrid and fully on-site work locations, employee engagement declined from 2019 to 2022. Regardless of work location (including fully remote employees), organizational satisfaction, clarity of expectations, opportunities to do what you do best, and feeling connected to the organization’s mission or purpose declined substantially.

The largest decline in employee engagement was among those in remote-ready jobs who are currently working fully on-site — this group saw a decline of five points in engagement and an increase of seven points in active disengagement. It’s worth noting that exclusively remote employees saw an increase of four points in “quiet quitting” (aka not engaged in their work and workplace).

Where do we start? Focus on clarifying expectations. The most concerning decline has been in the lack of clear expectations for employees across all demographic groups when comparing engagement pre-pandemic with the latest findings. This element is the most foundational of all engagement elements. A lack of role clarity makes all other engagement elements less impactful — employees cannot perform at a high level when they are confused as to what they are supposed to do.

Confused employees are more likely to look for other work and eventually leave the organization. What could be causing this consistent lack of clarity?

  • Leadership not clearly communicating the organization’s intended cultural values and strategy in the new world of work.
  • Young workers who are in remote or hybrid settings are the most vulnerable — the increased frequency of physical separation may contribute to this.
  • Managers not being in touch with the ongoing work-life challenges.

Next Steps:

  1. Conduct an organizational health assessment. This can be done quickly and provides a road map to your highest productivity ever. One such assessment is Vantage Point™. More details on www.vantagepointsurvey.com.
  2. Embrace hybrid work for remote-ready employees. Do this or you will have an uphill battle in attracting and retaining star employees.
  3. Establish on-site days as Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday. These days match with most employee preferences, but don’t make it a policy. Announce it as your new way of working. It is a promise employees make to each other, not a promise they make to management. Employees need to know which days people are in the office together for the highest collaboration and innovation. Customers and suppliers need to know when people are in the office, too.
  4. The manager must now hold one meaningful conversation per week with each employee

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