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Employee engagement rebounds, but remote workers are less connected

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Although employee engagement appears to be rebounding after two years of decline, fewer remote workers are finding connection to the mission and purpose of their organization, according to an Aug. 24 report from Gallup.

The organization’s May survey of full- and part-time U.S. employees found that about 34% said they were engaged at work, up from 32% last year. However, 35% of hybrid workers and 33% of on-site workers said they felt that their employer’s mission or purpose lent importance to their jobs, compared to 43% and 39%, respectively, in 2021.

That decline is even steeper among fully remote employees, only 28% of whom said they felt connected to organizational mission and purpose — a record low, per Gallup, and down from 36% in 2021.

“It is encouraging that, as U.S. workers are settling into new ways of working, they report improvements on the basic elements of employee engagement — clearer expectations, access to materials and equipment, and opportunities to do what they do best,” wrote Jim Harter, chief scientist of Workplace for Gallup and author of the report.

“But even as employees are more equipped to do their work, the relationship between employee and employer is less bound together by a common mission and purpose,” Harter said. “This means many employees’ relationships with their employers are becoming increasingly ‘gig-like’ and less loyal — which has possible implications on customer and employee retention, productivity, and quality of work.”

This year’s increase in engagement comes after a decade of growth. Engagement reached an annual peak of 36% in 2020 before dropping to 32% in 2022. Other measures are improving as well — the percentage of actively disengaged employees declined from 18% in 2022 to 16% this year, and the ratio of engaged-to-disengaged workers increased from 1.8-to-1 last year to 2.1-to-1 this year.

Overall, on-site employees showed the greatest engagement gains, according to Gallup. Respondents generally noted improvements in specific areas, such as knowing what’s expected of them at work, having the materials and equipment to do their work and having the opportunity to do what they do best every day.

To improve engagement among remote workers, “exceptional managers” are key, Harter said. For instance, Gallup previously found that managers should have at least one meaningful conversation each week with each employee — for a minimum of 15-30 minutes — to cover recognition, discussion about collaboration, goals, priorities and the employee’s strengths.

“We find this single habit of one meaningful conversation per week develops high-performance relationships more than any other single leadership activity,” Harter said. “Gallup analytics have found managers can be quickly upskilled to have these ongoing strengths-based conversations that bring purpose to work.”

Hybrid schedules and return-to-office policies may have put managers in a difficult position regarding employee expectations and engagement. Most managers in a 2022 Microsoft report said they felt that they didn’t have the influence, resources or skills to make changes or improvements for their teams.

Upskilling and coaching could help, according to a recent Info-Tech Research Group report, particularly when focused on specific skills such as providing useful feedback, guiding prioritization and having effective one-on-one meetings.

Leadership training may be particularly important since managers affect employees’ mental health —  more than doctors or therapists and about the same as a spouse or partner —  a 2022 UKG Workplace Institute poll found. Investing in manager training could help with employee engagement and mental health, particularly among remote workers who feel less connected.

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