Gallup: Nearly Half of New Workers Disengaged After 6 Months on Job

Experts suggest proper job fit, clear expectations, mentors and social ties can help

By Dana Wilkie Sep 3, 2013
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You’ve been at your new company for six months—met your colleagues, enjoyed the welcome lunch, attended the introductory seminars, grown comfortable with the software. And you finally feel productive. But are you still excited to be there?

About half of you aren’t, suggests new Gallup research.

Workers are more engaged in their first six months on a job than they are at any other stage of their employment with a company, according to a Gallup Inc. report, State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders, released in June 2013. At the six-month mark about half (52 percent) of employees remain engaged, while 40 percent are not engaged, and approximately one in 10 (8 percent) is actively disengaged, the report reveals.

This report highlights the latest findings from Gallup's ongoing study of American workplace engagement, which began back in 2000. It provides insights into what leaders can do to improve employee engagement and performance in their companies, based on survey research attained from 189 companies and more than 25 million employees.

After the six-month mark, when the employment honeymoon period is considered over, about 44 percent of workers remain engaged with their jobs up to the 10-year mark, while 12 percent to 14 percent become actively disengaged. After a decade those percentages remain roughly the same, no matter how long people stay with an organization.

“Workers' relatively high engagement levels during the first six months on the job may reflect an initial excitement about being part of a new company—and that enthusiasm might be strong enough to counteract any early negative impressions,” wrote Gallup editor Susan Sorenson and marketing director Keri Garman in the August 2013 issue of Gallup’s Business Journal. “New employees might also feel good about expectations and having opportunities to learn and grow. But new workers also may need support from their manager to form connections or make best friends at work, to believe their opinions count or to feel their contributions are being recognized.”

Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace management and well-being practice, told SHRM Online during a phone interview that his research shows companies can reverse this trend if they identify why employees become disengaged, and take the right steps to extend the honeymoon period.

Harter said new workers typically start disengaging when:

  • They’renot sure what’s expected of them.
  • They lack the tools they need to do their jobs.
  • The position’s not a good fit for their strengths.
  • They feel disconnected from others at the company.
  • They believe that their work doesn’t make a difference.

Gallup data collected from 2000 to 2011 indicate that companies that focus on the following areas tended to see active engagement increase, rather than decrease, after the first six months of employment—from 28 percent after the first year to 59 percent after the 10th year. During the same period, these companies saw active disengagement decrease from 18 percent to 8 percent.

Matching Jobs to Worker Strengths. Hiring the right person for the job is the first step to ensuring employee engagement, Harter said, and personality tests—such as the Predictive Index, StrengthFinder and the Hogan Personality Assessment—can help HR managers with this critical task.

“Often overlooked is whether people can use their inherent talents,” Harter said. “Part of that is how you select people to be in the right role to begin with. It’s about how you understand them individually and adjust their job to them. You can bring some science to selection so you can know what their tendencies are and put them in positions where they can use their strengths.”

Clarifying job expectations. Only about half of new employees understand everything their managers expect of them, Harter said. Even if expectations are written down, “it doesn’t mean people know what they’re expected to do when changes happen in an organization.”

“I’m not convinced that organizations really articulate performance-measurement plans very well,” he said, noting that many companies don’t have well-articulated goals for employees if managers leave or the organizational structure changes. “Often, expectations get kind of muddled when organizations don’t help employees understand how what they’re expected to do relates to the objectives of the organization so they can see the big picture.”

Providing tools to do the job. It may seem a given that new workers receive the tools they need to do their job—whether those are equipment, software or training—but that doesn’t always happen, according to Harter, who has studied new workers in the manufacturing industry who merely needed their forklift pedals adjusted, to perform more efficiently, and retail workers who needed staplers, to keep receipts together. “Sometimes, when employees ask for tools, managers don’t think it’s necessary. In most cases these aren’t things that are that expensive.”

Encouraging social connections at work. “When we come to work, the social part of us as humans doesn’t go away; we need to connect with people around us,” Harter emphasized.

Managers can help new workers make social connections by:

  • Introducingthem to employees with whom they have something in common.
  • Including them in teams that have a common goal.
  • Helping them find a mentor.
  • Not interfering with socialization.

“Part of it is not getting in the way of natural social connections people need to build,” Harter explained. “Some managers believe that when people come to work, they shouldn’t socialize too much, even informally. If they’re doing that, maybe that’s taking away from performance. But studies show informal communication in the workplace, even if it’s not related to performance, still boosts performance because people learn to trust and rely on one another.”

Helping employees make a difference. “Most people come to work wanting to make a difference,” Harter said. “Great managers are like facilitators to help workers develop over time and get better at their jobs. You don’t want to do this in an overly domineering way but in a way that helps them to progress. They build in new learning opportunities over time, whether in the form of training or mentoring or something else. I’ve been in my job 27 years and there’re still all kinds of opportunities to learn and grow.”

Harter suggests providing plenty of recognition for new hires’ early efforts and encouraging open communication with managers so they feel their opinion counts. The best managers, Harter added, check in routinely with the people they oversee, no matter how long the employees have been there.

Setting an example. Gallup has found that companies with highly engaged executives tend to have higher employee engagement. “Companies that engage more leaders and managers at every tenure level may hold the key to jump-starting workplace engagement nationwide,” Sorenson and Garman wrote.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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