Less than 35% of employees in the United States feel engaged while at work, according to the results of a 2022 Gallup report.
For the first time in more than a decade, the percentage of engaged workers—those who identify as feeling deeply involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace—declined in 2021, dropping two percentage points from 36% to 34%. In 2022, employee enthusiasm dropped even further, with just 32% of employees feeling engaged at work.
Simultaneously, the percentage of employees who consider themselves “actively disengaged” at work increased one percentage point to 17%. The drop in engagement is reflected in record increases in employee quit rates, and escalating stress and burnout among Americans.
The Gallup results include data from employees in various work environments, including those who work exclusively on-site, exclusively remote, and in hybrid workplaces.
Notably, not all organizations saw a decline in engagement in 2021.
Organizations that actively practiced employee engagement strategies—like increasing senior management involvement and communication, providing skills training, and promoting accountability among employees and managers—saw improvements in employee engagement and performance.
Here’s what you need to know about the latest employee engagement measurements, and some strategies to increase engagement at your organization.
What is employee engagement?
The Society of Human Resource Management calls employee engagement a reflection of employees’ commitment and connection to their organization’s mission. Gallup defines it as employees’ involvement in and enthusiasm for their work and workplace.
Formal definitions aside, employee engagement is an important part of workplace culture and a strong determinant of organizational success. Engaged employees are committed to the causes they work for and the goals of their employers. They are energized in the workplace and feel connected to their roles at work.
How is employee engagement measured?
For the Gallup poll, employee engagement was measured by asking random samples of the working population about “specific workplace elements” — including:
- How clear work expectations are
- How much opportunity for development exists
- How much they feel their opinions count at work
- How much they feel connected to their organization’s mission or purpose
Here’s what the poll found:
- Employees who are disengaged feel like they don’t have clear expectations or the right physical materials and equipment to do their jobs. They feel disconnected from the mission or purpose of their organization and feel that they lack the opportunity to do what they do best.
- Employees who are engaged are enthusiastic and emotionally involved in their work and workplace. They feel prepared to do their job and know what’s expected of them. They have the right materials and opportunities to do their job well and realize their full potential.
Tellingly, the percentage of employees who “strongly agree” that their employer cares about their overall wellbeing plummeted in 2022, with fewer than one in four U.S. employees feeling that their organization cares about their mental health and wellbeing. On top of that, only 18% of employees are “extremely satisfied” with their place of work.
In terms of job location, employees who work in either exclusively remote or hybrid work environments tended to have higher levels of engagement (37%) than employees who work exclusively on-site (29%).
Why is employee engagement important?
Enhancing employee engagement is a top priority for businesses and nonprofits alike. Engaged employees are “focused” and “intensely involved” at work, and approach their roles with a sense of urgency. They have strong relationships with their managers and feel a deep purpose and sense of meaning from their work.
Obviously, employee engagement is a critical determinant of a business’s bottom line. Gallup research continually shows that engaged employees produce better outcomes across industry and organization sizes.
Based on Gallup’s data, the top and bottom quarter organizations had the following differences in performance outcomes:
- 81% difference in absenteeism
- 58% difference in patient safety incidents (mortality and falls)
- 18% difference in turnover for high turnover organizations
- 43% difference in turnover for low turnover organizations
- 64% difference increase in safety incidents (accidents)
- 18% difference in productivity
- 10% difference in customer loyalty/engagement
How to improve employee engagement
Gallup reports that 70% of the variance in engagement among teams is determined solely by the team’s manager. Thus, thinking about and developing employee engagement initiatives should be a manager’s primary responsibility.
Employees want to feel valued for their unique contributions and have relationships with managers who can coach them, according to Gallup. Poll results show employee engagement is specifically driven by employees’ feelings that they have:
- Caring and involved management
- A sense of purpose in their work
- A workplace where development is encouraged
- A role that celebrates their strengths
In nonprofit organizations, engagement is directly related to employees’ connection to their organization’s mission. Organizations that report high levels of employee engagement are those that ensure employees understand the importance of their individual contributions to the larger goal at hand.
Implementing more participatory management, a management structure that encourages employee involvement in decision making may help increase engagement by giving employees the power and voice to influence their organization’s operations and goals.
Employees in this type of management structure have close relationships with their managers, frequently receive and provide feedback, and play a role in shaping their team’s strategy.
While there are no quick fixes when it comes to creating meaningful relationships between employees and managers, there are strategies that can be implemented to improve employee engagement and satisfaction.
Workplaces that have successfully increased employee engagement have done the following:
- Used organizational values to guide decisions. Employees want more than just lip service when it comes to workplace culture and values—they want to see them in action. Prioritizing employee well-being and doing what is right, like spending money outside of the planned budget to assist employees during a pandemic—will help build trust in leadership.
- Embraced flexible work environments. Successful organizations are those that are able to pivot gracefully and embrace flexibility, particularly when it comes to the physical workplace. Employers should consider how physical vs. remote workplaces may affect employees’ health, happiness, and ability to perform their job. Above all, managers should always be transparent with employees about any ambiguities regarding the future of their work.
- Upskilled managers. Ensuring that managers are properly trained to coach employees and respond to their individual needs is a critical step in improving employee engagement. During uncertain times like the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s particularly important that managers are trained to prioritize consistent communication, promote clear expectations, and ensure that employees have the resources they need to do their jobs, whether remote or in-person.
- Focused on employee wellbeing. As employees’ work and personal lives become increasingly blended, employees need to be cognizant of the demands of life in and out of the workplace. Employers should consider how they can support employees mentally, financially, socially, and in their careers—and provide resources to improve these.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lia Tabackman is a freelance journalist, copywriter, and social media strategist based in Richmond, Virginia. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, CBS 6 News, the Los Angeles Times, and Arlington Magazine, among others. She writes weekly nonprofit-specific content for 501c.com.