High-Potential Employees Are Increasingly Disengaged

Updated February 12 2020 - A recent survey of North American employees found that only a third of respondents intended to stay at their jobs in 2020 compared to almost a half (47%) last year. The online survey was conducted by Achievers, that provides an employee voice and recognition solution that accelerates a culture of performance.

Achievers' 3rd annual Employee Engagement & Retention Report based on 1154 respondents showed that disengagement is a serious problem. A mere 19% of employees surveyed said they were "very engaged," whereas 14% felt fully disengaged. Even the 32% of respondents considering themselves to have "average engagement" were open to new job opportunities.

According to Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, Achievers' Chief Workforce Scientist:

"Our data shows a substantial portion of today's workforce already has one foot out the door. This is a huge shift from what we found last year: that despite disengagement, 65% of employees were planning on staying at their jobs. Employers must take immediate action to reverse these feelings of underappreciation and disengagement. If they don't, the risk of turnover and underperformance in 2020 is immense."

Other main findings included:

Leadership is falling flat on culture-building

  • Only 23% of employees felt that senior leaders were "very committed" or had "more than average" commitment. This compared with 31% who reported the same in 2019.
  • 33% of respondents believed leadership was "minimally committed" to culture and employee experience - up by 7% from 2019.
  • 12% of those surveyed felt that leadership in their workplace was "not at all committed" to culture and employee experience

Absence of recognition is a top driver of turnover (19%), after pay (52%) and career growth (43%)

  • 82%t of respondents "strongly" or "somewhat" agreed with the satement that they wished they received more recognition at work.
  • 30% of employees surveyed felt "not very" or "not at all" valued by superiors.
  • "Lack of recognition" (19%) is a top-three reason why employees surveyed are looking for or considering leaving their jobs, after compensation (52%) and career growth (43%).

Employees are leaving because they (still) don't feel heard

  • 15% of respondents said "horrible" and 43% chose the second lowest grade—just "okay" when asked how good their employers were at soliciting feedback.

Cost of disengagement

More than a decade ago, a Gallup study indicated that "actively disengaged" employees - workers who are fundamentally disconnected from their jobs - were costing the U.S. economy between $292 billion and $355 billion a year.

These estimates were based on Gallup's "Q12" employee engagement survey of the U.S. workforce, which calculated that 24.7 million workers (19%) were actively disengaged. The survey, running since 1999 found that actively disengaged workers were absent from work 3.5 more days a year than other workers - or 86.5 million days in all.

Gallup research consistently showed a tendency for actively disengaged workers to be (in comparison with colleagues):

  • significantly less productive
  • report being less loyal to their companies
  • less satisfied with their personal lives
  • more stressed and insecure about their work

The Q12 survey took its name from 12 core questions (see below) that Gallup asked employees at its clients' work units. The results allowed Gallup clients to see and understand links between levels of employee engagement and productivity, growth and profitability.

Gallup Q12 survey

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission or purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Rodd Wagner, a principal at Gallup, and James K. Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist at Gallup's international workplace management practice have written a book - 12: The Elements of Great Managing by 12 based on Gallup research over the past decade. The book focuses on vivid portraits of real-life managers harnessing employee engagement in a variety of situations:

  • saving a failing call center
  • turning a hotel's finances around
  • improving care at a hospital for sick kids
  • building a better car, and
  • maintaining a factory's production while battling power outages

12: The Elements of Great Managing by 12 also addresses an issue Wagner and Harter describe as "an element unto itself": why higher salaries don't always produce better work.

The book is a successor to the classic First, Break All the Rules. Besides a decade of Gallup data, the authors make use of the latest insights from brain-imaging studies, genetics, psychology, behavioral economics, and other scientific disciplines to reveal what drives good managers.

According to Wagner and Harter:

"Ultimately, what emerged are the 12 elements of work life that define the unwritten social contract between employee and employer. Through their answers to the dozen most important questions and their daily actions that affected performance, the workers were saying, 'If you do these things for us, we will do what the company needs of us.'"

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