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This week, the Gallup Organization released a report titled “State of the American Workplace.”

It was created “to help business leaders optimize their attraction, retention, engagement and performance strategies in a time of extraordinary change,” according to its introduction, and furthermore “presents an unparalleled look into the modern workforce.”

So for this week’s post, instead of my usual opinions and blatherings, I thought I’d highlight/summarize some of the findings contained in this 214 page report. Spoiler alert, though.

That “state” isn’t good.


Work is work

Currently, there are approximately 100 million people employed full-time in the United States according to Gallup. Of those, only about one third might be described as “engaged” at work.[1] The world’s best organizations, on the other hand, enjoy worker engagement levels of 70% according to their data.

Breaking it down further, in the U.S.:

  • 33% of employees are engaged at work
  • 51% of employees are not engaged (or “just there”)
  • 16% of employees are actively disengaged

This does not represent a dramatic or recent shift in worker attitudes. As the authors of the report point out, employee engagement in the U.S. “has barely budged over the past decade and a half.”

The reasons for this persistent and widespread apathy (or downright distaste) for work are perhaps difficult to pinpoint exactly, but Gallup does offer some explanations as to why. For instance:

  • Only 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization
  • Only 21% of all employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work
  • Only 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future
  • Only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization

If there is a dearth of confidence in leadership, it would seem to be further justified by some very fundamental errors/oversights that managers across the board seem to be making. For example, Gallup found that:

  • Only six in 10 employees say they know what is expected of them at work
  • Only 41% of employees strongly agree that their job description aligns well with the work they are asked to do
  • Only three in 10 employees strongly agree they have the materials and equipment they need to do their work right
  • Only 12% of employees strongly agree their organization does a great job of onboarding [training] new employees

If workers don’t know what to do, aren’t told how to do it, and often lack what they need to do their jobs, it seems that managers are failing them in other ways, as well. Consider that, by Gallup’s reckoning:

  • Only 44% of employees strongly agree that they can see a connection between their goals and the organization’s goals
  • Only 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work
  • Only 23% of employees strongly agree their manager provides meaningful feedback

And perhaps most distressingly:

  • Only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that at work, their opinions seem to count

This is unfortunate because, as this report insists:

“Most workers…approach a role and a company with a highly defined set of expectations. They want their work to have meaning and purpose.”

“Sixty percent of employees say the ability to do what they do best in a role is ‘very important’ to them. Male and female employees and employees of all generations place the greatest importance on this aspect of a job.”

And yet even if an employee does good work, or attempts to remain “engaged,” many workers seem to feel that it won’t pay off anyway:

  • Just 18% strongly agree that employees who perform better grow faster at their organization

Oh – and by the way, just in case you were wondering if any of worker “engagement” stuff actually affects the bottom line, Gallup estimates that:

The cost of actively disengaged employees to the U.S. economy—in terms of lost productivity—is between $483 billion and $605 billion annually.


The bright side?

The problem, it seems, is management…one compounded by the fact that most managers are themselves not engaged at work. According to Gallup’s surveys:

When we examine executives and front-line managers (those who only manage individual contributors) separately, we find that 45% of executives are engaged versus just 29% of managers [my emphasis].

So if you think this problem is limited to low-level, frontline employees who are perhaps inherently lazy or unmotivated, you’d be mistaken in Gallup’s estimation. Managers aren’t all that engaged at work either – especially those closest to the rank-and-file. This would seem to doubly unfortunate, considering that:

“Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.”

So is there a bright side to any of this?

I’ll admit that it’s hard to imagine what it might be. As Gallup bluntly puts it:

“These figures [in this report] indicate an American leadership philosophy that simply doesn’t work anymore [sic].

Nevertheless, before wrapping this week’s post up, I would argue that there is one bit of good news. “Employees,” as Gallup argues, “approach the job market with a clearly defined list of wants and needs.” More generally then, Gallup suggests that:

“Employees are the consumers of the workplace.”

Workers, in other words, now more than ever seem to view a job as a “product” that they “purchase” from an employer with their time.

This realization is significant – as are its repercussions, I’d argue. As Gallup correctly concludes, “organizations should want their employer brand, their reputation as an employer, to be as formidable at their customer-facing brand – the same logic applies to both.” By failing to do so, the reports warns, an organization misses an opportunity to retain talented and valuable employees and thus “reduce turnover and maintain productivity.”

(And just in case you were wondering, workers are in fact shopping around. As Gallup also found, 51% of all U.S. workers say they are either actively looking for a different job, or watching for opportunities.)

So if there is a take-home message to all of this, it really is quite simple, in my opinion.

Managers, in order to better engage and retain your employees, treat them as you would your customers.

Because truth be told, that’s what they are.


See you next week.


[1] Gallup’s study is based on data collected from more than 195,600 U.S. employees via the Gallup Panel and Gallup Daily tracking in 2015 and 2016, and more than 31 million respondents through Gallup’s Q12 Client Database. The employee engagement questionnaire used in their surveys is based on the “12 elements of great managing” that they first published in First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (1999, New York: Simon&Schuster), and later in 12, The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter (2006, New York: Gallup Press).