skip to main content
Workplace
U.S. Employee Engagement Holds Steady in First Half of 2021
Workplace

U.S. Employee Engagement Holds Steady in First Half of 2021

Story Highlights

  • The employee engagement turbulence of 2020 has abated
  • Workplace realities demand a renewed focus on employee engagement
  • Managers remain central to creating engaged teams

Gallup is closely tracking the engagement and wellbeing of the workforce during this unprecedented time of disruption. We continue to provide the latest updates for organizational leaders so they can understand the impact on the workplace and what their people need most during this time of ongoing change.

Get the highlights from Gallup's latest study across 112,312 business units that finds important ties between employee engagement and 11 performance outcomes -- including profitability and employee wellbeing.

After wild fluctuations in 2020, and hitting a peak level early this year, employee engagement has settled down in the U.S.

Currently, 36% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplace -- which matches Gallup's composite percentage of engaged employees in 2020. Globally, 20% of employees are engaged at work.

The percentage of actively disengaged employees is up slightly in the U.S., from 14% in 2020 to 15% through June 2021. Actively disengaged employees report miserable work experiences and are generally poorly managed.

The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged workers in the U.S. is 2.4-to-1, down slightly from 2020 when the ratio was 2.6-to-1.

Gallup measures employee engagement by asking random samples of the working population about specific workplace elements that link to many organizational outcomes, including profitability, productivity, customer service, retention, safety and overall wellbeing.

(To learn more about the benefits of engagement, download our report.)

The elements of engagement include clarity of expectations, opportunities for development and opinions counting at work. In short, engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace.

Line graph. 36% of U.S. employees are engaged, while 15% are actively disengaged.

Why Employee Engagement Matters Now

In 2020, the importance of having an engaged workforce was never more urgent. Organizations with high employee engagement were more resilient and able to weather the many challenges that came with a pandemic, an economic collapse and societal unrest.

In the aftermath of 2020, employee quit rates are reaching record highs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Historically, Gallup research has found substantial differences in intentions to change employers as a function of the quality of the work environment. The importance of this finding is magnified in the current workforce's "great resignation," which is possibly just getting started.

Among actively disengaged workers in 2021, 74% are either actively looking for new employment or watching for openings. This compares with 55% of not engaged employees and 30% of engaged employees. Many factors contribute to job changes, including opportunities in the job market, of which employees may be more aware after having time to contemplate their work and life in 2020. Engaged employees sometimes change jobs too, but at a much lower rate than not engaged or actively disengaged employees.

A major result of COVID-19 and lockdowns across the U.S. in 2020 has been an increased interest in remote work. Many workers don't particularly want to return to the office, even if it's encouraged by their employers and safe to do so.

As of April, 72% of U.S. white-collar workers were still working from home, compared with 14% of blue-collar workers. Four in 10 white-collar workers prefer to work from home, including more than half of computer and mathematical occupations. Other fields with a high preference for working from home include arts/design/entertainment/media, life/physical/social sciences, financial/insurance/real estate/consulting and legal occupations.

While every organization will handle the transition of many employees to fully remote work -- or to a remote/on-site "hybrid" model -- in its own way, it will be almost impossible to do it in a way that engages employees without highly skilled managers who set clear expectations, are in touch with each person through meaningful weekly conversations and have high accountability.

For many organizations, the hybrid model works best because it can provide flexibility that considers several factors simultaneously -- the individual's life situation and strengths, the needs of the team they work on, health concerns, and the organization's culture and business objectives. Much of what determines the engagement of employees is individual and situational.

Whatever the case, as U.S. organizations continue to transition to their own version of the "next normal" workplace, how leaders manage the mix of "where I work" will be centrally important, particularly among white-collar workers. Even more important, though, is how employees in any setting are managed. The new workforce, especially younger employees, demands managers who aren't traditional "top-down, command-and-control" bosses, but rather are coaches who develop employees, communicate frequently with them and care about their overall wellbeing.

Bottom Line

In 2021, the engagement of U.S. employees has remained steady after a decade of improvement. But with 36% of U.S. employees engaged in their work, there is still much room for improvement.

Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award (GEWA) winners average 73% of engaged workers on the same metric. These organizations show that doubling employee engagement in the U.S. is possible -- and it would change national productivity and wellbeing. Such a dramatic increase in engagement would also change how efficiently leaders can implement any new initiative.

(Learn how Gallup helps organizations improve employee engagement.)

What's more, as Gallup has found that career wellbeing is the foundation for improving other elements of wellbeing, including social, financial, physical and community, doubling the national employee engagement percentage would have a profoundly positive impact on workers' mental health and overall wellbeing throughout the country.

Currently, 36% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplace -- which matches Gallup's composite percentage of engaged employees in 2020. Globally, 20% of employees are engaged at work.

Amid changes in workplaces and the economy, building an engaging workplace with great managers remains centrally important. During tough times, it predicts the resiliency of the workforce. During recovery times, with lower unemployment, it predicts the retention of star employees. During all times, engaging workplaces with great managers build organizational reputation and employment brand.

Only managers are in a position to understand the unique situation of each person, how and where they work best, and their contribution to their team and organization.

Gallup will continue to track the engagement and wellbeing of the workforce during these unprecedented times of disruption and change and will continue to provide the latest updates for organizational leaders.

Engage employees at your organization:

Author(s)

Jim Harter, Ph.D., is Chief Scientist for Gallup's workplace management practice. He recently coauthored Wellbeing at Work, a book that explores how to build resilient and thriving teams in organizations. He is also coauthor of the No. 1 Wall Street Journal bestseller It's the Manager and New York Times bestsellers 12: The Elements of Great Managing and Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements.


Gallup https://www.gallup.com/workplace/352949/employee-engagement-holds-steady-first-half-2021.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030