Less than a third of American workers feel engaged at work, Gallup finds: NPR

A new Gallup report finds that employee engagement needs an uptick, with only 32% of U.S. workers engaged in their jobs.

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Malte Mueller/Getty Images/fStop

A new Gallup report finds that employee engagement needs an uptick, with only 32% of U.S. workers engaged in their jobs.

Malte Mueller/Getty Images/fStop

When Tanvi Sinha first entered accounting 17 years ago, she worked from the office every day, even on Saturdays in the busy season.

She enjoyed lunches with colleagues and opportunities to learn simply by listening and watching others. She grew professionally and aspired to leadership positions.

Now that her company has made office work optional, Sinha wonders if newcomers to the field will ever feel as connected to their work as she does.

“I’m pretty sure their involvement would be compromised,” says Sinha, now an audit executive at the accounting firm Matthews, Carter & Boyce in Fairfax, Virginia.

A new report from Gallup shows that large numbers of workers, especially Gen Zers and young millennials, are disengaged from their jobs. And that could make their climb up the career ladder more difficult, hurting companies’ overall performance.

Employee engagement has fallen since 2020

The Gallup Investigation of approximately 67,000 people in 2022 felt that only 32% of employees were engaged in their work, compared to 36% in 2020.

The share of employees found to be “actively disengaged” has risen since 2020, while the share of those in the middle – those perceived as “disengaged” – has remained about the same.

Engagement had increased in the decade before the pandemic, after the Great Recession, but started to decline in 2021.

Younger employees have seen a greater drop in engagement than older ones. Those under 35 reported feeling less heard and less engaged at work. Fewer Gen Zers and young millennials reported having someone at work who encourages their development and fewer opportunities to learn and grow.

“There is a growing gap between employees [and] employer. You could almost compare it to employees becoming a bit more like gig workers,” said Jim Harter, chief workplace scientist at Gallup and author of the new report.

Gig work by its very nature does not lend itself to loyalty or long-term relationships between employees and employers. Employees may feel less motivated to get the best out of themselves.

“In the context of high-quality customer service, retaining your best people is a problem,” says Harter.

Having actively disengaged employees can be very detrimental to businesses. Employees who don’t meet most of their needs in the workplace often share their negativity with other people, says Harter. That could affect the morale of the company.

Engagement is lacking in onsite, hybrid, and fully remote workers

Gallup measures an employee’s level of engagement based on a series of questions such as: Does the employee understand what is expected of them at work? Does their opinion seem to count? Will they get the chance to do what they do best? Do they have a best friend at work?

While engagement declined for a large number of employees, the biggest declines were among what Gallup calls “remotely prepared on-site workers”—those who could do their jobs from home but work in the office.

But Harter says there are also troubling findings among those who are completely remote.

More of them fall into the middle category—somewhere between engaged and actively disengaged—which Harter equates to stopping quietly.

Meanwhile, employees in various categories — on-premises, hybrid, and fully remote — all noticed a decline in a sense of being connected to their organization’s mission or purpose. The clarity of expectations was also lower in the groups.

And the number of employees who say their company cares about their overall well-being has dropped dramatically, from about 50% at the start of the pandemic, when many companies rolled out all kinds of accommodations for employees, to half today.

Some companies recognize the importance of mental wellbeing

With increased levels of silent stopping and real stopping, Stephanie Frias believes companies have a reckoning.

“I think companies are realizing this is vital – for people to feel engaged and connected at work,” said Frias, chief people officer at Lyra Health. “It’s not just about the work people do. It is: how do you bring meaning to that work?”

Her company provides mental health services to other companies, targeting both individuals and organizations at large, and trains managers to notice and respond to acute situations.

With all the disruptions of the pandemic, what worked in the past won’t necessarily work now, and there really is no playbook, says Frias. Employees today want to be engaged in their work, but in a way that is convenient and palatable to their lifestyle.

“It’s going to be a journey and a ride,” she says.

Finding a balance in remote working is much appreciated

As the manager of her accountancy firm, Sinha is looking for the right balance.

She enjoys working from home and knows others do too. But she makes it a point to be in the office two or three times a week, sometimes just a few hours, and encourages her teams to find times when they can be together as well.

“Pick a few days, come to work, mingle with people, talk to people,” she says.

It’s not just about being social. It involves exposure to other parts of the business.

Sinha says audit teams used to sit together in conference rooms and go to client sites together, so everyone on the team knew every aspect of the audit. Now you are only allowed to work on your one side.

“That’s not a holistic view,” she says.

Technology can help, says Sinha, and she uses video conferencing to keep in touch with her team members on a daily basis. But there are pitfalls to not seeing people in person, especially for those who have never worked in an office on a regular basis.

“Some people who got hired during COVID — I mean, I went to work after a long time and I couldn’t even recognize that this is the person,” Sinha recalls with a laugh, noting that it was bad on her part.

Gallup scholar Harter says the role of managers has expanded significantly during the pandemic. They are the ones who can make sure employees know what is expected of them and make employees feel cared for.

“Managers will find out the quirks of each person they manage,” he says. “They’re the only one close enough to do that.”

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