After trending up in recent years, employee engagement in the U.S. saw its first annual decline in a decade — dropping from 36% engaged employees in 2020 to 34% in 2021.
This pattern has continued into early 2022, as 32% of full- and part-time employees working for organizations are now engaged, while 17% are actively disengaged, an increase of one percentage point from last year.
The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged workers in the U.S. is 1.9 to 1, down from 2.1 to 1 in 2021 and 2.6 to 1 in 2020. The annual record high is a ratio of 2.7 to 1 in 2019.
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. The current survey was of a random sample of 14,705 U.S. full- and part-time employees.
The survey measures several workplace elements, including employees' level of agreement about clarity of expectations, opportunities for development and their opinions counting at work. In short, engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. Actively disengaged employees are disgruntled and disloyal because most of their workplace needs are unmet.
Line chart displaying the employee engagement trend in the U.S. — in 2022 so far, engagement continues its downward trend, now at 32% engaged and 17% actively disengaged, an engagement decline of two points from the 2021 average.
The decline began in late 2021: The 32% of engaged employees in early 2022 is equivalent to the percentage in the second half of 2021. The engagement elements that declined the most from early 2021 to 2022 were employees' level of agreement that they have clear expectations, the right materials and equipment, the opportunity to do what they do best every day, and a connection to the mission or purpose of their organization. Gallup also found an eight-point decline in the percentage of employees who are extremely satisfied with their organization as a place to work.
Job types: Healthcare workers had the greatest engagement decline (nine points) from early 2021 to early 2022. Managers saw a seven-point decline from early to late 2021 — but have since rebounded by three points in early 2022.
Remote jobs: Employees who work exclusively remote or hybrid tend to have higher levels of engagement (37% engaged in both groups) than those who work exclusively on-site (29% engaged). This difference is approximately the same for those in remote-capable jobs and all jobs, including those that are not remote capable. Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, the decline in the percentage of engaged employees was evident across all three groups — exclusively remote, hybrid and exclusively on-site — but highest for employees who are exclusively remote. The decline was especially evident on engagement elements relating to clarity of expectations, materials and equipment, recognition, development, and connection to the organization's mission or purpose.
Wellbeing: Gallup recently reported a sharp drop in the percentage of employees who strongly agree that their employer cares about their overall wellbeing. Employee engagement is foundational to improving the wellbeing and resilience of a workforce because it contains elements of communication, caring, development, involvement and collaboration. These elements set the stage for developing trust — which opens the door for addressing overall wellbeing.
Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, the decline in the percentage of engaged employees was evident across all three groups — exclusively remote, hybrid and exclusively on-site — but highest for employees who are exclusively remote.
The good news is this: While only 32% of U.S. employees overall are engaged, there are organizations that have more than doubled this percentage. Gallup's Exceptional Workplace Award winners averaged 70% employee engagement even during a highly disruptive 2021. Here's what they do differently:
The pandemic-driven "great forced working experiment" of the past two years provided organizations and employees with an opportunity to learn from what worked well and what didn't.
With the spread of COVID-19 stabilizing in the U.S., organizational leaders may have an opportunity to put new plans in motion for the foreseeable future. How they display their organizational values through these decisions and practices — especially through their managers — will differentiate them from other organizations. Getting the basics of employee engagement right is a critical first step in building a resilient culture and an employment brand that attracts stars.
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.
Sangeeta Agrawal contributed analysis to this article.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on self-administered web surveys conducted during February 2022, with a random sample of 14,705 adults working full time and part time for organizations in the United States, aged 18 and older, who are members of the Gallup Panel. Gallup uses probability-based, random sampling methods to recruit its Panel members.
Gallup weighted the obtained samples to correct for nonresponse. Nonresponse adjustments were made by adjusting the sample to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education and region. Demographic weighting targets were based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population.
For results based on the overall sample of U.S. adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
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