Why Employee Engagement Is on the Decline,  And What To Do About It

Why Employee Engagement Is on the Decline, And What To Do About It

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Employee engagement in 2022 took a hard hit with worldwide resignations, mass layoffs, and quiet quitting. In addition, the uptick in remote work created a new lack of connection. To really understand how employee engagement has been affected within the workplace, WorkTango partnered with HR.com to survey 275 HR professionals from all over the globe, representing almost every industry and business size. Here are some of our major findings.

Why employee engagement is down

Employee engagement is a hot topic right now. And rightfully so. One Gallup report shows we’re experiencing the lowest ratio of engaged to actively disengaged U.S. employees since 2013. With engagement at a historic low, employers are asking the burning question: why is this happening?

To really understand how employee engagement has been impacted, it’s important to look back a few years. Starting in early 2020, employees faced a rollercoaster of changes — from office shutdowns to isolated remote environments to a return back to a very different office. Feeling unsettled, stressed, and lonely are just a few of the emotions employees have experienced during the last three years.

As a result, employees began to “check out” at an alarming rate. In fact, only 1 in 10 of the organizations we surveyed said more than 80% of their workforce is highly engaged. And two-fifths admit that employee engagement has been lower over the last year.

While employees have not stopped performing their jobs, they are not going above and beyond either. In other words, they’re giving their time to work, but not their energy or passion. And while this can easily be dismissed as laziness, it’s not. It’s a response to feeling undervalued and unappreciated. 

Employee Engagement Research Study

To really understand how employee engagement has changed over the last year, WorkTango partnered with HR.com on a research study in which we asked 275 HR professionals to rate their employee engagement.

Future of Employee Engagement Research Report 2023

Here’s what we found:

  • 41% of respondents say engagement is down, while 27% say it’s up.
  • Only 23% say the average employee engagement level at their company is an 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale.
  • Only 11% say that the majority (81% to 100%) of their workforce is well engaged.
  • One-third say engagement has stayed about the same.
  • Nearly three-fourths say only 60% or fewer of their employees are highly engaged.
  • 21% of larger organizations report a drop in engagement by more than 10%, compared to 13% of mid-size organizations and zero smaller organizations.

The leading factor in employee disengagement

It’s clear by these stats that many organizations across the globe are experiencing the same thing — a room full of employees who have little interest in the work they do. But why? What contributing factors have lowered engagement?

Lack of supportive leadership

The root of employee disengagement starts at the top.

When we asked HR professionals who was responsible for improving employee engagement, most said that Human Resources, immediate supervisors, and top leadership all play a critical role in creating employee engagement.

  • Two out of three respondents said the responsibility falls on Human Resources and immediate supervisors.
  • Three out of five said the responsibility falls on top leaders.

This makes sense since HR leaders are often tasked with improving engagement, and supervisors are a critical part of this strategy.

Despite the overwhelming consensus that leaders play a major role in improving employee engagement, we found that most leaders are not actively involved in employee engagement initiatives.

When asked how effectively leaders contribute to employee engagement, HR professionals responded with surprisingly low numbers.

  • Only 45% of leaders actively foster employee collaboration
  • Just 40% recognize superior contributions
  • 37% build trust
  • 36% take time to listen to feedback
  • 36% communicate clear expectations to employees
  • 33% help remove barriers to good performance
  • Only 24% spend time coaching employees to develop strengths

So, what can leaders change to put employee engagement front and center?

What drives employee engagement?

We asked HR professionals which factors were most highly linked to their employee engagement. Here’s what they said:

  • 48% of respondents said that opportunities for career growth help to keep employees engaged
  • 48% said organizational culture plays a key role in employee engagement
  • 48%  mentioned relationships with an immediate supervisor
  • 47% cited job flexibility
  • 44% mentioned compensation and benefits

In other words, when these five factors are prioritized within the workforce, employee engagement goes up.

So how do organizations prioritize employee needs?

It’s all about creating an employee experience where people are regularly consulted about their needs — then offered effective solutions in response.

Start by building relationships

Here’s what good leadership looks like: effectively communicating, recognizing and rewarding performance, and monitoring progress over time.

But before we get to the latter two, let’s take a look at the first one: effective communication.

Only 36% of leaders who responded to our survey take the time to listen to feedback and communicate clear expectations to their employees.

This is an essential part of employee engagement, yet so few are actually prioritizing it. In fact, we found that employers with higher levels of employee engagement are 3X more likely to listen carefully to employee feedback.

A great employee experience starts with a leader who cares. Someone who builds connection, creates open communication with all employees, and actively listens to their concerns.

However, before you can listen, you need to create a place where employees feel safe expressing their opinions. We recommend implementing short pulse surveys at your company where HR or management asks participants to share their opinion on a specific topic.

Then, organizations can compile the results, take employee feedback and make important changes that align with their stated needs. Be aware, however: this is not a one-and-done solution. Communication is a continual, intentional, habit that, over time, builds relationships.

Invest in employee success, recognition and rewards, and surveys and insights

According to our survey, organizations with high levels of engagement are almost 4X more likely to maintain a positive work culture compared to organizations with low levels of engagement. 

And with “organizational culture” topping our list as a must-have for employee engagement, we know a positive work culture is important.

So what steps can employers take to create a culture that thrives?

Offering great compensation packages and hybrid work opportunities is certainly a start. But that alone won’t boost employee engagement. 

What will? Evaluating and then implementing an employee experience platform where all parts work together to create a place where employees love to work. Here’s what comprehensive employee experience platforms should include:

  • Conversations, Goals and Check-Ins functionality where leaders facilitate continuous 1-on-1s, regular sync-ups, and quarterly performance discussions to ensure that employees are progressing towards their goals and feel aligned with the business and supported by their managers.
  • Recognition and rewards capabilities, where employees are noticed and praised publicly for a job well done. Wellness, learning and professional development, and employee incentives are just a few additional valuable components that can strengthen recognition and rewards software.
  • An active listening tool that contains polling, pulse surveys, and benchmarks to help organizations gather employee feedback and input, and then identify where changes need to be made.

Top 5 factors linked to high engagement

Let’s circle back to the five factors HR professionals believe are directly tied to employee engagement: 1) opportunities for career growth, 2) organizational culture, 3) relationship with immediate supervisor, 4) job flexibility, and 5) compensation and benefits.

With the employee experience platform, all five factors are addressed. A strong work culture evolves from leaders listening to employees and providing opportunities that they need to flourish.

Yes, employee engagement is down. However, every employer has the capability to turn employee engagement at their company around.

Companies can, and should, do something about low employee engagement. And with modern software built for today’s hybrid workplace, it’s a lot easier than you might think.