Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report finds that six in 10 people are emotionally detached at work and 18% are miserable. But there is also a growing minority of workers who want purpose and meaning from their work and want to be known for what makes them unique. These employees are engaged, or thriving at work, and Gallup has been studying these workers for decades.
What is employee engagement, and why have we measured it? And what can leaders do to take charge of engagement within their ranks?
Join host Kristen Lipton as we explore Gallup’s decades of research on the world of work in the premiere episode of “Thriving: A Gallup Podcast on the State of the Global Workplace.”
This week’s guest is Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s Chief Scientist for Workplace Management & Wellbeing.
Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.
Kristen Lipton 00:01
Eighty-one thousand, three hundred and ninety-six hours. That’s how much of life most of us spend working. The only thing we spend more time doing is sleeping. If we spend so much of life at work, how is life at work going? According to the world’s workers, not well. Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report finds that six in 10 people are emotionally detached at work and 18% are miserable. But is that a surprise or a statistical explanation of the obvious? The idea that “work sucks” is everywhere. It’s been the subject of ancient philosophers, world leaders, your colleagues and pop culture. We’ve all read the trend pieces and seen the TikToks on quiet quitting, the viral concept that people aren’t going above and beyond at work and are just meeting their basic job description. But what if I told you quiet quitters make up more than half of the U.S. workforce? More on that later. It’s not just the hours, imbalance or location that leave workers unhappy. It’s what’s happening at work that makes them miserable. But there is also a growing minority of workers who want purpose and meaning from their work and want to be known for what makes them unique.
“My name is Akime. I live in Maryville -- it’s basically Gainesville, Georgia.”
“My name is Bonnie. I live right outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a suburb called Glendale.”
Kristen Lipton 01:25
These employees are highly involved and enthusiastic about their work and their workplace.
“I enjoy the ability to learn something and quickly apply it and constantly being challenged. And I enjoy being part of a field that is so relevant: technology.”
“So it’s really kind of a fun job where I get to vicariously interact with just about every type of activity and company that you can possibly imagine in the world. I’ve been doing it for, this is my 18th year.”
Kristen Lipton 02:00
They take ownership for their work and drive high performance and innovation. They move an organization and its mission forward.
“I enjoy hard work, and I enjoy striving toward something. So I’m always trying to be on that ladder and trying to overachieve and get as much done.”
“So, I go there every day and I feel like I’m mentoring people and I’m helping people, and I’m learning, and I have the freedom to do what I do.”
Kristen Lipton 02:27
Gallup defines these employees as engaged, or thriving at work. And we’ve been studying and measuring employee engagement since 2009, for a whole host of reasons we’ll get into this season.
“My name is Lisa. I live in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and I’m a leadership development facilitator. For me, an engaged employee means someone who’s connected to the overarching mission of the company. Someone who sees their work represented in that mission. They understand that their work connects to something larger than themselves. They go, you know, the extra mile. They work with passion, with energy. Yeah, they care.”
Kristen Lipton 03:10
I am Kristen Lipton, and this is “Thriving: A Gallup Podcast on the State of the Global Workplace.” Gallup defines employee engagement as the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace. Employees make decisions and take actions every day that can affect a workforce, an organization. The way a company treats employees and how employees treat one another can positively affect their actions, or can place an organization at risk. Based on decades of employee engagement research, Gallup knows that engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other workers. And that’s true across industry, company size and nationality. And, in good economic times and bad. The good news is that as of this summer’s report, global employee engagement is at a record high in Gallup’s trend spanning more than two decades. But the bad news is that this amounts to fewer than one in four employees. Even as organizations struggle to navigate an uncertain economic outlook, employees are struggling too, ultimately impacting the productivity and performance of their organizations. So, how does Gallup measure employee engagement? My colleague, Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s Chief Scientist for Workplace Management & Wellbeing, knows better than anyone. Jim is the primary researcher and author of the first large-scale, multi-organization study to investigate the relationship between work unit, employee engagement and business results. He’s authored or coauthored more than a thousand research studies on employee engagement.
Jim Harter 04:53
Engaged employees, and we've been studying this for decades now, but they're involved, they feel psychologically involved, and they feel enthusiastic about their work and their workplace, and they bring a lot of discretionary effort when they come to work. They put in the extra effort to impact customers. Not everything that happens in the workplace is predictable. And so employers need employees who go out of the way, who respond to colleagues’ requests and needs and also customers and their needs.
Kristen Lipton 05:22
What's different about an actively disengaged employee?
Jim Harter 05:26
An actively disengaged employee has more emotion that comes with them. They're really turned off by most of their work experiences. They might have a terrible boss. It's particularly problematic during economies with high unemployment because they have less choice. So they can't get out of a tough, you know, a miserable job. Actively disengaged workers actually have worse work experiences and life experiences than people who are unemployed. And so that's a problem. They're coming to work and they're feeling pretty miserable about their, about their work situation, and it starts really with coming to work and having clear expectations. When people are confused about their jobs, they're more likely to be what we call actively disengaged. And in the U.S., as we've trended engagement over time, we’ve found some recent decreases after a decade of growth. And those decreases have really been from engaged employees turning into actively disengaged employees, which we would call not quiet quitters but loud quitters. They're going to be more vocal and more emotional about their work experience.
Kristen Lipton 06:24
Now, how does Gallup measure employee engagement?
Jim Harter 06:29
We have 12 time-tested items that have worked really well in predicting performance across different economies, across different changes in technology. So really, over decades, we’ve done 10 iterations of meta-analysis, which is a study of a lot of studies. And this particular most recent one includes 112,000 teams or business units. And each of those items not only predict business outcomes for organizations, but they’re also actionable in areas that managers and leaders can do something about and change. So we measure employee engagement through … you might think of them as formative measures of engagement or antecedents that managers and leaders can act on. They range from clarity of expectations, as I talked about a little bit ago, to having their basic resources they need to do their work, to having an opportunity for them to do what they do best every day.
Kristen Lipton 07:22
Gallup’s Q12 survey includes the following items. Q01: I know what is expected of me at work.
Jim Harter 07:29
It's the most foundational of the 12. If we don't get that right, all the other elements are less effective because people are unclear about their jobs.
Kristen Lipton 07:40
Q02: I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
Jim Harter 07:44
That’s particularly important because when people want to do good work and they don’t have what they need to do it, it causes high levels of stress for employees and they become disengaged.
Kristen Lipton 07:53
Q03: At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
Jim Harter 07:58
That's one particularly directed at someone's awareness of their own strengths and their ability to use their strengths on a regular basis. Managers can facilitate that by continually putting people into positions where they leverage their strengths. And it's not that they avoid the things they don't do well, because everybody has some of those, but that they emphasize in particular what someone does well and give them feedback on that and put them in positions where they can do that.
Kristen Lipton 08:25
Q04: In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
Jim Harter 08:31
That builds off the first three, really, because managers need to be in touch with people and know how they like to be recognized. Only 10% of people report that someone asked them how they like to be recognized -- low-hanging fruit. But it's important to get it right. It's got to be authentic, and it's got to fit into the organization’s overall culture. Both managers and colleagues can influence that item, in particular.
Kristen Lipton 08:55
Q05: My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
Jim Harter 09:00
That one's linked to all kinds of outcomes. When people feel they come to an environment where they feel cared about, they're just much more likely to stay, they're much more likely to become engaged and feel a part of the overall culture and feel that they matter, which is essential to human nature.
Kristen Lipton 09:14
Q06: There is someone at work who encourages my development.
Jim Harter 09:20
That’s particularly important because everybody needs development. But the people also need to see where their future is. And when there are challenging times, one thing an organization can do is help people see where their future in the organization is and how they can develop into the future, particularly salient for young people coming into the workforce. They need mentors; they need to see their opportunities to grow in the organization.
Kristen Lipton 09:41
Q07: At work, my opinions seem to count.
Jim Harter 09:45
That one is really the most linked to all the other items. It’s about listening. People often avoid the whole topic of listening or they just don’t pay enough attention to it. But it’s more low-hanging fruit that the best managers practice regularly. They spend time listening to people and their situations so they can respond appropriately and also build on their current practices. People close to the customer are the ones who usually have the best insights. And so listening to people and getting their input is really important.
Kristen Lipton 10:13
Q08: The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
Jim Harter 10:19
Managers are particularly in position to help people see how their work connects to the customer and the end goals that they're trying to reach as an organization. It's a really important item that we've seen drop recently, where people are feeling less connected to their employer. But it's one that's very actionable, with great managers helping people see how their work matters.
Kristen Lipton 10:41
Q09: My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
Jim Harter 10:46
That's really important because it's not only the people you work with directly; it can also relate to the departments inside the organization. And when people feel that their coworkers are committed to quality, you see much higher customer outcomes. Customers tend to be more engaged. That one, in particular, is how managers hold people accountable and that people can see the value of their work and that everybody's responsible and accountable for the quality of the work the organization brings forward.
Kristen Lipton 11:14
Q10: I have a best friend at work.
Jim Harter 11:17
That's really about the social connections that people have at work and how they connect with their colleagues, build trust. We found that it's an item that really builds on top of all the other items. When people are otherwise engaged at work, they have friends that stay together. When they're not otherwise engaged at work, they will tend to leave together. So the social bonds kind of build on top of the other elements and lead to outcomes like innovation, spontaneous conversations, people being able to download with a colleague in a trusting fashion, and all the things that make us human beings. And that doesn't leave us when we come to work.
Kristen Lipton 11:54
Q11: In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
Jim Harter 12:01
Think about that kind of a conversation as more of a slowdown conversation, not the same as these ongoing weekly conversations, but a chance to take time to sit back and discuss with somebody not only their past progress, but also their future and where they're headed and what all the experiences are that they've had. And so that's a minimum six months. Many people want to do it even quarterly or more often than that. But at minimum six months, discussion of progress.
Kristen Lipton 12:26
Q12: This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.
Jim Harter 12:32
That's framed in the last 12 months, in the last year. So people can kind of think back about all the opportunities they've had at work and whether it's training or other experiences they've had. And do they feel they've had opportunities to learn and grow -- which is an ongoing need, no matter how old we are. If we're going to be engaged at work.
Kristen Lipton 12:49
Managers can take charge of engagement by asking and evaluating their employees’ responses to these 12 employee engagement questions to create a structure for their interactions with employees: casual conversations, meeting agendas, performance evaluations and team goal-setting. We’ve been measuring and reporting employee engagement trends for years and have used these 12 elements to determine how involved and enthusiastic employees are in their work and workplace. So, why does all this matter for businesses? When Gallup analyzed the differences in performance among business and work units, the benefits of employee engagement were clear. When comparing employee engagement levels, top-quartile business units and teams had the following differences in business outcomes from bottom-quartile business units and teams: 81% less absenteeism, 64% fewer safety incidents, 43% less turnover, 41% less in quality defects. Top-quartile business teams also had 23% more profitability compared to bottom-quartile teams, as well as 18% greater productivity and 10% more in customer loyalty. So whose job is employee engagement, anyway?
Jim Harter 14:11
Everybody is responsible for improving engagement. Individuals, even if they have a lousy manager, can do some things to initiate the right questions, to clarify priorities, to recognize their peers. Individuals can have a big impact. But 70% of the variance in team engagement is directed right at the manager, from our research. And the reason for that is managers need to take the lead. They're in a leadership position. They need to take the lead and set the tone for the culture of the organization. They need to set up the right meetings, to have the right discussions. They need to have ongoing meaningful conversations with employees.
Kristen Lipton 14:43
Employee engagement should be a manager's primary role responsibility. Managers are in charge of ensuring that employees know what work needs to be done, supporting and advocating for them when necessary, and explaining how their work connects to organizational success. To succeed in that responsibility, managers need to be equipped to have ongoing coaching conversations with employees. Unfortunately, most managers don't know how to make frequent conversations meaningful. So their actions are more likely to be interpreted as micromanaging without providing the right tools and direction. It's not enough for leaders to simply tell managers to own engagement and coach their teams. So, what is the state of employee engagement around the world today? Each year, Gallup releases its State of the Global Workplace report, which represents the collective voice of the global employee and updates our worldwide trends in employee engagement. Recent measures in 2020 and 2021 marked great turbulence for workplaces across the globe. Improvements in global engagement, which were rising before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, suddenly stagnated. Meanwhile, employees across the world reported greater levels of stress than ever before. So, where are we now? 2022 measures from our latest State of the Global Workplace report offer some positive developments as well as new challenges facing employers and employees everywhere. I'll start with the good news. Twenty-three percent of the world's employees were engaged at work in 2022 -- the highest level since Gallup began measuring global engagement in 2009. Although engagement declined during the pandemic, it has returned to its historically positive trend.
Jim Harter 16:37
Yeah, so the good news is there has been some improvement. A lot of that has to do with there was a big rebound in India and South Asia -- India in particular, because of the population in India. They were devastated in 2021. People were not able to do their work in a normal kind of way because of the pandemic. That’s since recovered, and people are getting back to their normal ways of working. And I think that sense of autonomy is a big factor. And the population size of India alone has led to the global increase.
Kristen Lipton 17:03
The new high in employee engagement is promising. But at the same time, more than twice as many employees are not engaged, an outlook on work popularized as quiet quitting in 2022. Most of the world's employees, nearly six in 10 in the world, are not engaged. These employees are filling a seat and watching the clock. They are not sure what they are supposed to do or why, and they have few friendships at work. Although they are minimally productive, they are more likely to be burned out than engaged workers because they feel lost and disconnected from their workplace. They are also more likely to be stressed. Although the world has recovered from the worst of the pandemic, employee stress remains at a record-high level -- 44% of employees said they experienced a lot of stress the previous day, repeating the record high in 2021 and continuing a trend of elevated stress that began almost a decade earlier.
Jim Harter 18:01
We could blame the increase in stress on the pandemic, but it started way before then. It did peak up even more during the pandemic, at 44%, and that’s where it’s at again this year, globally. In the U.S., it’s above 50%. So that’s a problem. There’s certain parts of the world where it’s worse -- Australia and New Zealand, Canada. It’s interesting. It’s in some of the more developed parts of the country, where you see -- with the exception of Europe, where Europe has low engagement and low stress -- but the problem in the U.S. and the global trend, in fact, started back when we were trying to get, in 2009 … and it just kind of steadily grew. And I think it has a lot to do with our work life continuum or connection, in that if work and life aren’t in sync, then we’ve got all kinds of baggage we can bring with us to work. If our work is getting in the way of our social lives, or if our work is not fulfilling our financial wellbeing, or it’s causing issues with our physical wellbeing, or we feel less connected to our communities, those kinds of things can all compound. And usually when we talk about mental health issues, it is a result of compounding factors. And the reason it peaked up even more during COVID, is COVID brought with it a lot of compounding factors. Probably all those areas I just mentioned were compromised to some extent.
Kristen Lipton 19:20
Gallup estimates that low engagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion and accounts for 9% of GDP globally. Leadership and management directly influence workplace engagement. And there is a lot an organization can do to help its employees thrive. Loud quitting, which Gallup would categorize as actively disengaged, can signal major risks within an organization that are important not to ignore. Conversely, quiet quitters, the 59% of the global workplace who are not engaged, are often the greatest opportunity for growth and change. They are waiting for a leader or a manager to have a conversation with them, encourage them and inspire them. A few changes to how these “not engaged” workers are managed could turn them into a productive team. Managers need to be listeners, coaches and collaborators. The manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement. Employee engagement should be a manager’s primary role responsibility. The Q12 items help managers and teams start conversations and approach workplace engagement issues in an authentic and meaningful way.
Jim Harter 20:37
Managers as coaches mean that they're experts at setting priorities on an ongoing basis. It means that they're experts at having ongoing conversations that are meaningful to people on a weekly basis, and it means having high accountability. We can't have this high-flexibility work without accountability, where people know how well they're doing. And managers know the result of individuals’ work and motivate them to reach even higher levels of performance. A key kind of element in all that, Kristen, we found is strengths. If you blend a strengths-based culture into that kind of initiative, where we're upskilling managers to become more like coaches, it makes their jobs a lot easier because they can move from one conversation to the next in a more fluid way. They know each person's tendencies. And if they are at a distance, they understand why someone did what they did, they can put some language around it. They know what a person's strengths are, they know what some of their possible vulnerabilities might be and how a coworker's strengths might offset those, and they know how to give them the right kind of recognition. So it's a shortcut to getting all this right.
Kristen Lipton 21:4
The good news is this. While only 32% of U.S. employees overall were engaged in 2022, there are organizations that have more than doubled this percentage. Gallup’s 2022 Exceptional Workplace Award winners average 70% employee engagement even during highly disruptive times. These exceptional companies maintained this level of engagement by using their organizational culture and values to guide business decisions, embracing flexible and hybrid work, and centering priorities around employee wellbeing. Culture, remote work and wellbeing are among the topics we'll cover this season. Next week on “Thriving”: What makes a bad job, and how widespread is employee burnout? It is a symptom of modern workplaces that are increasingly fast-paced, complex and demanding. Many employees feel overwhelmed by competing demands and conflicting expectations, and technology has blurred the lines between home and work life. Thanks for tuning in to “Thriving: A Gallup Podcast on the State of the Global Workplace.” I'm Kristen Lipton. “Thriving” is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. Access Gallup’s decades of research on the workplace, as well as our latest State of the Global Workplace report, at Gallup.com.