Employee engagement has reached its lowest level since 2015, according to a new survey released by research firm Gallup.
About 32 percent of the 67,000 full- and part-time employees surveyed were engaged in their work in 2022, while 18 percent were actively disengaged. Active disengagement has risen each year since 2020. The remaining respondents—50 percent—were neither engaged nor actively disengaged.
"[2022 showed] the lowest ratio of engaged-to-actively disengaged employees in the U.S. since 2013, almost a decade earlier," the report stated.
Engaged employees are "involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace," according to the survey. Actively disengaged employees are "disgruntled and disloyal" because most of their workplace needs are unmet.
The report, released on Jan. 25, indicated that the engagement elements with the steepest declines since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic 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 also found a significant decline in the percentage of employees who feel "extremely satisfied" with their organization as a place to work—an indication that workers today feel more disconnected from their employers.
"I'm not surprised that engagement has flagged," said Jay McDonald, an Atlanta-based workplace consultant. "The workplace has been blown to smithereens thanks to the pandemic. You see that up until 2020, engagement was growing. Now, with workforces scattered, many companies are still trying to figure it all out."
Which Workers Are Most Disengaged?
Women experienced a greater decline in engagement than men in 2022, with women reporting feeling less cared about at work and less likely to have someone to encourage their development.
Younger workers, those under age 35, saw a bigger drop in engagement than workers ages 35 or older. Younger workers were more likely than older employees to have experienced declines in:
- Feeling cared about.
- Having someone who encourages their development.
- Opportunities to learn and grow.
- Their opinions counting.
- Having a best friend at work.
When assessing job types, engagement levels decreased the most among individual contributors and project managers. These groups also showed the greatest rise in the percentage of workers who were actively disengaged.
"Remote-ready onsite workers," or people who could do their job from home but are working at the office, also showed large declines in engagement, while fully remote employees saw an increase in "quiet quitting," which Gallup defined as "not being engaged in work or the workplace but not actively disengaged.
Employees across different categories—onsite, hybrid and fully remote—all experienced declines in feeling connected to the mission or purpose of their organizations, according to the report.
McDonald, author of Strategic Jaywalking: The Secret Sauce to Life & Leadership Excellence (Jaywalking Communications, 2022), explained that companies must carefully consider their policies involving remote work, hybrid schedules and onsite work.
"More and more employers want people back in the office while the younger generation of workers desire the flexibility," he said. "If a company doesn't define their work structure clearly and have employees that will adhere to it, there will always be that disengagement. One side feels the other doesn't 'get' them or trust them. And trust is at the center of a good working relationship."
Tips for Increasing Employee Engagement
McDonald believes a lack of trust among an organization's leaders and workers has contributed to the rise in employee disengagement.
"Today's employees need to be heard," he said. "They need to feel as if their leaders care about them, not just as an employee but as a person. Leaders must engage regularly and show interest in what they do, not to mention be crystal clear in what the employee contributions mean to the company."
Regarding employee engagement, the Gallup report surmised that:
- Leadership is not clearly communicating the company's cultural values and strategy in the new world of work.
- Young workers may be more vultnerable to lower engagement due to poor expectation-setting in a remote environment.
- Managers are not being in touch with ongoing work/life challenges.
The report also offered ways employers and people managers can enhance employee engagement:
- Ask for feedback.
- Leverage the feedback into tangible change.
- Focus on clarifying expectations.
- Share and celebrate positive results among employees.
McDonald said leaders should consider incorporating an element of fun into the workday, such as a game or event that disrupts the monotony of work.
"Happy people are more productive, so create a team-building exercise that puts everyone in a good mood," he said. "The other important thing is to engage with your workforce regularly. They should know how much you care. They should feel comfortable talking with you about challenges in and out of work. They should also feel appreciated."