SHRM Survey Finds Moderate Level of Employee Engagement

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Jan 19, 2012

More than four out of five U.S. employees surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) might say they are satisfied with their jobs, but that doesn’t mean they are engaged. According to the 2011 Job Satisfaction and Engagement Research Report released in December 2011, employees were only “moderately engaged,” with a score of 3.6 on a 5-point scale.

Although the 83 percent employee satisfaction figure was down from a 10-year high of 86 percent in 2009, the percent of employees who claim to be satisfied hasn’t changed significantly in the decade SHRM has spent measuring such results, according to Mark Schmit, SHRM’s vice president for research. “In general, people find ways to be satisfied at work,” he said.

Schmit noted that the war for talent will be back on before long. “When that happens, there is the potential for turnover given the dissatisfaction that employees seem to have with the real or perceived lack of advancement opportunities.”

That’s why many companies are focused on a different measure of employee commitment: employee engagement.

While job satisfaction measures how employees feel about various aspects of their job, such as compensation, benefits and the work environment, “employee engagement is about employees’ commitment and connection at work,” the report noted, including the “feel,” the “look” and the conditions for engagement. These three elements combined provide an engagement figure that SHRM has measured on a 5-point scale.

For example, more than two-thirds of employees expressed agreement with various opinions of engagement that relate to personal aspects of engagement (described as the “feel” of employee engagement):

  • I am determined to accomplish my work goals and confident I can meet them – 83 percent.
  • I frequently feel that I’m putting all my effort into my work – 70 percent.
  • While at work, I’m almost always completely focused on my work projects – 70 percent.
  • I am highly motivated by my work goals – 68 percent.

More than half of employees expressed agreement for various engagement behaviors that relate to the behavior of teams in organizations (the “look” of employee engagement):

  • In my organization, employees are encouraged to take action when they see a problem or opportunity – 60 percent.
  • My work group never gives up – 53 percent.
  • My colleagues quickly adapt to challenging or crisis situations – 52 percent.
  • Employees in my organization deal very well with unpredictable or changing work situations – 51 percent.

Lastly, about three-quarters of respondents expressed satisfaction with certain “conditions” of engagement:

  • The work itself – 76 percent.
  • Relationships with co-workers – 76 percent.
  • Opportunities to use skills and abilities – 74 percent.
  • Relationship with immediate supervisor – 73 percent.

Employees expressed the lowest levels of satisfaction with career advancement and development opportunities, at 42 and 48 percent, respectively. And only about one-half said they feel completely plugged in at work (52 percent) or enjoy volunteering for activities beyond what the job requires (53 percent).

“Employees seem to be saying: I’m not getting training or opportunities for development, so why would I volunteer to do extra things to advance my career by helping out the organization,” Schmit said.

“Human beings are not meant to operate like computers, at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time,” noted Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, in the report. “We need a new workplace paradigm built around the fact that human beings are designed to pulse between spending and renewing energy,” he continued. “Counterintuitive as it may seem, intermittent rest and recovery actually fuel sustainable high performance—especially when demand is high.”

Respondents included 600 employees working full time or part time at the time of the survey. Thirty-four percent worked for companies with 2,500 or more employees, and 39 percent had 11 or more years of tenure with their employer.

Industry-specific data generated by the survey is available in SHRM’s new employee job satisfaction and engagement survey service for employers, People InSight.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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