Employee (dis)engagement - what does the data say?

May 11, 2023

According to a new Gallup (2023) survey, employee engagement has dipped to lows not seen since 2015. It’s not likely any surprise that three years of the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on organizations and their employees. And, given the current economic climate, it’s feared that there will be no reprieve. How can we cope? We need strong organizations, and organizations need a strong, talented, driven, and ENGAGED workforce. How can we turn this around in today’s environment? Gallup’s findings offer us some clues.

First, let’s look at the engagement elements that experienced the most significant dips from previous research:

  • 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  

The same report also found that employees are significantly less satisfied with their organizations and feel very disconnected from their employers. These effects are more pronounced for young millennials and GenZ employees (under 35), as well as women across the board. In fact, their study suggests that the under-35 workforce is feeling: 

  • less cared about by their organizations 
  • a lack of encouragement in their career development
  • fewer opportunities to learn and grow
  • that their opinions aren’t valued
  • without camaraderie or lacking a best friend at work

These are troublesome findings, given that we know employees are looking for growth, value, relationships, and belonging in the workplace. 

So how can you address this? Start by tackling these two crucial factors: 1. employees need to know what’s expected of them, and 2. They need to feel connected and valuable to the organization. 

Clear expectations

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we work has drastically changed. Many organizations have had to adapt to remote or hybrid work environments, and employee engagement has taken a hit. The Gallup study found that the most concerning decline in employee engagement has been the need for clear expectations for employees across all demographic groups when comparing engagement pre-pandemic with the latest findings.

Employers and people managers should focus on clarifying expectations, asking for feedback, leveraging feedback into tangible change, and celebrating positive results among employees. 

Clear expectations are the most foundational element of employee engagement. With role clarity, all other engagement elements become more impactful. Confused employees can only perform at a high level when they are sure of what they are supposed to do. This lack of clarity can lead to employees looking for work elsewhere.

What could be causing this consistent lack of clarity? One major factor is leadership not clearly communicating the organization’s intended cultural values and strategy in the new world of work. This can lead to confusion and disengagement. Clear and consistent communication from leadership is crucial in ensuring employees understand their roles and responsibilities.

Another group that is particularly vulnerable to this need for more clarity is young workers in remote or hybrid settings. The increased frequency of physical separation may contribute to this. Without the benefits of in-person communication, young workers may struggle to understand their roles and responsibilities.

Lastly, managers need to be in touch with ongoing work-life challenges to provide clarity. Managers must understand the unique challenges that each employee is facing and work with them to ensure that they are clear on their roles and responsibilities. Regular check-ins and communication can go a long way in ensuring that employees feel supported and engaged.

Employees need to feel connected and valued, especially in distributed teams

According to Gallup, finding the right balance of in-person time can result in the highest levels of employee engagement. Regular touchpoints or check-ins are critical to prevent employees from feeling disconnected from the organization. Check-in should be frequent but short and deliberate, revolving around goals, strengths, and well-being. They should also give employees the space and confidence to discuss challenges or concerns. Frequent check-ins are instrumental to developing high-performance relationships with employees and are more effective than any other leadership activity.

Gallup analytics show that managers can quickly develop these strengths-based conversations, which bring clarity and purpose to work, ultimately leading to higher productivity and engagement. By adopting hybrid work and implementing regular, meaningful conversations, organizations can ensure their employees are happy, engaged, and motivated to achieve their goals.

With the growing trend toward remote and hybrid work, companies need to embrace flexibility to attract and retain key talent. Managers play an increasingly important role in navigating both remote work and employee engagement. But as the world shifts to a more distributed workforce, many companies need help finding the right balance. The younger generation of workers desire flexibility, while employers want people back in the office. According to the author of Strategic Jaywalking: The Secret Sauce to Life & Leadership Excellence, this issue is causing disengagement among employees.

Managers should add an element of fun into the workday, such as a game or event that disrupts the monotony of work. The right type of team-building can put workers in a good mood and help them feel appreciated.

Finding the right work structure is challenging for many companies, but balancing employee flexibility and company policies is important. Clear communication, trust, and engagement are key to a successful working relationship. By incorporating fun team-building exercises and regular engagement with the workforce, companies can increase employee engagement and productivity.

Clear career progression pathways

There is another step you can take to create clarity and enable engagement. Provide your employees with clear and continuous career progression pathways. Even in remote and hybrid environments, and especially in uncertain economic times, it is critical to empower employees for growth. Continuous career progression doesn’t always mean promotions and compensation increases. It means empowering employees with the tools they need to grow in their roles and supporting them with transparent systems that use a clear and leveled competency rubric. Employees can monitor their progress in real-time and engage in important (and regular) conversations with their employers about it. 

Learn more about how Pando helps our customers build employee engagement.