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The State of the American Workplace

By Dennis Jones

American Workforce

A couple months ago, Gallup, one of the nation’s venerable public polling organizations, released its report on the State of the American Workplace. North of 200 pages, the report is an all-encompassing study of nearly 200,000 workers across industry. The third report of its kind, State of the American Workplace, uses multiple years’ worth of daily Gallup tracking data to dive deeply into employment trends.

Those who’ve read prior reports won’t be too shocked by some of the findings, as they tell a consistent story. On the other hand, those who haven’t will find certain results sobering indeed. Why? Well, Gallup Chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton, summarizes the study’s topline conclusions best, “The very practice of management no longer works.” In other words, something is rotten with the state of the American Workplace.

What’s going wrong? It turns out the main culprit is disengagement. So while roughly a third of employees are engaged, according to the Gallup study, another 16 percent of employees are actively disengaged. As an aside, if you’re not really up on the employee engagement literature, here’s a good working definition, courtesy of Forbes: “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.”

On the face of it, one-third engagement versus 16 percent disengagement sounds like a reasonable trade off, one you might even be willing to accept at your own company, but you should probably read on. Actively disengaged employees aren’t just run of the mill employees, they’re a case apart; as Clifton explains, “They are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build.” Moreover, disengaged employees are more likely to steal from your company, negatively influence coworkers, miss workdays and drive your customers away. Sound bad enough? Well, the macro-economic toll of active engagement to the American economy is pretty staggering. Actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy between $438 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. For context: that’s around the size of Sweden’s GDP.

So, in other words, not only are disengaged employees (by definition) not engaged at work, they tamp down on the engagement of others, thus undercutting the company-wide benefits resulting from an engaged workforce. In the words of Mike Rickheim, Chief Human Resources and Communications Officer at Newell Rubbermaid, “[engagement] is not just a warm, fuzzy thing. It’s about giving people the tools they need to succeed in their careers, which in turn drives the outcomes that we’re seeking in the marketplace. When you look at it through that lens, when people have the tools they need to succeed, feel good about their personal growth opportunities, and receive the appropriate rewards and recognition for their contributions, it’s a win-win proposition.” That’s without mentioning that high employee engagement numbers tend to correlate with higher productivity and customer satisfaction numbers.

According to the Gallup study, resting somewhere between the engaged and actively disengaged camps are the ranks of the non-engaged, some 50 percent of workers. That means that nearly two-thirds of respondents are not engaged at work.

Other important findings that the report unearthed included the ongoing trends towards the workplace. From 2012 to 2016, the number of employees working remotely increased from 39% to 43%. In addition to these raw numbers, employees spent more time working remotely, suggesting that American businesses are embracing workplace flexibility.