While the pandemic changed how and where we work, there were some surprising positives that we could not have predicted when we went to a remote workforce. However, one of those trends has since reversed itself. Employee engagement is declining. During the first year of the pandemic, it stayed on a trend over the past decade and increased as employees found remote work liberating. However, in the two years since, it has dropped each year.
According to a Gallup study, in 2022, employee engagement was 32% versus 36% in 2020. The study also found active disengagement to be at 18% in 2022 versus 14% in 2020. This is a ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees of 1.8 to 1 in 2022 versus 2.6 to 1 in 2020. This ratio is the lowest it’s been since 2013. In 2019 it was at an all-time high of 2.7 to 1.
Gallup conducted quarterly random surveys of the working population. “The survey measures several workplace elements, including employees’ level of agreement about clarity of expectations, opportunities for development and their opinions counting at work. In short, engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. Actively disengaged employees are disgruntled and disloyal because most of their workplace needs are unmet.”
The study concludes the decline started towards the end of 2021. Some of the reasons for engagement drops are not surprising, as the pandemic, and remote work, drug on longer than expected. The biggest drops occurred in the following areas:
- 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
As you can see, the longer people have been out of the office, the more disconnected they feel. Younger workers were more affected, as were women. The largest decline in engagement was with healthcare workers, who didn’t have the option of working remotely. The high volume of patients they had to deal with during the pandemic while being chronically understaffed likely contributed to the disengagement.
It’s not all bad news. Gallup found that top-performing companies averaged 70% employee engagement. They were able to keep high engagement levels through an adaptive culture, “embracing flexible and hybrid work while maintaining strong connections between managers and employees — keeping performance, collaboration, employee wellbeing, and the customer at the center of how work gets done.”
From a cultural standpoint, one of the most important aspects of improving employee engagement is clarity of expectations. If your employees are not sure of what they’re supposed to do, engagement will fall. This is especially true for younger workers who are working remotely, and it requires leadership to be current with employee expectations and concerns.
Suggestions from Gallup to improve employee engagement include conducting a qualitative culture audit, embracing hybrid work arrangements for remote-ready employees, formalizing but not mandating which days to work in the office, and holding leadership accountable for weekly one-on-one meetings with their direct reports.
To learn more about building a strong work culture and how executive leadership can create an environment where employees thrive, send us a note.