Employee Apathy at All-Time High
Managers shouldn’t need a Gallup poll to tell them this, but if your organization is typical, employees aren’t all that jazzed about showing up for work anymore. We’re not just talking about those who have to go back to the office after working remotely for the last few years. In fact, Gallup found a decline in the percentage of engaged employees across entirely remote, hybrid and exclusively on-site workers. But, “the decline in the percentage of engaged employees was the highest in those who are exclusively remote,” said Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup's workplace management practice.
Beware: the remedy isn’t pulling those workers back into the office. Employees lack the very basics of what they need to succeed, regardless of location. More on this later.
Employee Surveys Are Only the Start
“Employee engagement had been growing for a decade,” said Harter. It’s now lower (32% in the year 2022) than it has been since 2013, including during the height of the pandemic and the racial unrest following the murder of George Floyd by the police. How, when we have so many tools available for employee listening, could we not have seen this coming and intervened to stop it in its tracks?
“Because taking surveys doesn’t stop the decline,” said Harter. It’s up to the employer to determine what needs to be changed, how it’s supposed to be changed and to take action.
“Surveying is great, but if you don’t do anything with the data, or don’t know what to do with the data, nothing changes,” said Jennifer Moss, a workplace strategist and author of "Unlocking Happiness at Work" and "The Burnout Epidemic."
Related Article: Are Employee Surveys Masking Flaws in Your DEI Efforts?
A Bit About Gallup's Survey
Each quarter, Gallup surveys a random sample of 15,000 full- and part-time workers either by telephone or in person using a tool called the Q12 which has used the same 12 questions for decades. Questions range from question one “I know what is expected of me at work” and question two “I have the materials and equipment to do my job right,” to question 10 “I have a best friend at work” and question 12 “in the last year, I have had opportunities to learn and grow.” The answers to the first two questions are as vital to your job as those essential things a person needs to survive found on the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid of human needs (think: shelter, water, food, warmth, rest, health).
Workers Don't Know What to Do
One of the more alarming findings in Gallup’s report is that workers had a lack of clarity about their deliverables. “Employees cannot perform well if they don’t what is expected,” said Harter.
Photo courtesy of Gallup
This is one of the two foundational elements effecting engagement. A lack of role clarity makes all other engagement elements less impactful — employee performance inevitably suffers when they are confused about what they supposed to do.
This why the responsibility for employee experience belongs to the CEO. "It is the organization’s number one priority," said Jason Averbook, co-founder of human resources consultancy Leapgen. Employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity (11% of global GDP) in 2022 alone, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 report. Moreover, disengaged workers who quietly quit affect their employers’ profitability, productivity, customer service, retention, safety and well-being. In other words, an organization’s top and bottom lines.
But how do CEOs prevent this if they don’t even know their employees are disaffected? Internal surveys could help them discover the problem, if workers tell the truth when they respond or complete the survey at all. We asked a number of workers if they gave honest answers to the surveys conducted by their employers. While some said yes, others admitted that they lied because they feared management would be able to connect them with their answers and deem them expendable.
Other workers said they refused to participate. "If management wants me to share, they can buy me a drink and we can sit down and talk. After a while if I trust them, I’ll answer their questions," said a project manager who asked that her identity be kept private. Response rates on employee experience surveys typically range between 25% and 60%.
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At Northwest Federal Credit Union in Herndon, Va., employee engagement rates were in the high 80s in 2022, according to CHRO Jean Cain. "There are no big surprises when we see the results," she said. This can be attributed to several reasons. “We have a culture of transparency,” said Cain. Not only that, but the organization keeps its teams small — each manager has six to seven reports. “We try not to overwhelm them,” she said. The CEO also periodically hosts manager-free lunches with small groups of workers so that they can ask questions, share ideas and provide feedback.
“We focus on our employees so that they can focus on our customers,” said Cain.
Related Article: Employee Engagement Hit an All-Time Low: Here's How to Revamp Your Strategy
... And Don't Have the Tools to Do It
It’s widely known that having access to the right materials and equipment not only empowers workers to do their jobs, it also improves job performance and promotes job satisfaction. So, forgive us, but it’s a bit mind-blowing that an employer wouldn’t give workers what they need to succeed. Yet, according to Harter, as of the fourth quarter of 2022 only 36% of employees strongly agreed that they have the materials and equipment they need to do their work right. "This is a drop from a peak of over 40% in 2021," he said.
Photo courtesy of Gallup
It would be one thing if a shy employee was working offsite and was afraid to ask for what they needed, but the survey found the drop fell more for onsite than for remote employees.
While Harter made it clear that employers need to go well above the basics to create employee engagement, it’s a good place start.
“People first need to know what is expected of them at work, and then they need to have resources that help them get their work done. These are the first, most basic, fundamentals in engaging employees. Without these basics, employees become quickly frustrated, disengaged and unproductive,” said Harter.
About the Author
Virginia Backaitis is seasoned journalist who has covered the workplace since 2008 and technology since 2002. She has written for publications such as The New York Post, Seeking Alpha, The Herald Sun, CMSWire, NewsBreak, RealClear Markets, RealClear Education, Digitizing Polaris, and Reworked among others.