Workforce Engagement is Sinking - How Can You Turn the TIde? Good advice for modern leaders from a veteran HR executive

Workforce Engagement is Sinking. How Can You Turn the Tide?

Have you noticed that workforce engagement and motivation are slipping? You’re not the only one. In April, Gallup confirmed that U.S. workforce engagement declined from a high of 36% in 2020 to 34% in 2021.

2022 hasn’t been any better. This year, only 32% of full-time and part-time employees told Gallup they’re engaged, while 17% say they are actively disengaged.

What’s happening here? Why is work engagement declining? And what can you do to prevent burnout and unnecessary resignations on your team?

Why Is Engagement In a Slump?

Every business is different. However, there are some common trends we can point to as we search for underlying reasons for decreased engagement.

Burnout, high turnover, and poor communication are among the most prevalent causes. And these problems only get worse when good employees stop caring. That’s because new team members tend to look to high-achieving colleagues for advice, motivation, and guidance.

Let’s look closer at each of these factors:

1. Burnout

While burnout can be linked to chronic hustle culture, return-to-office concerns also are playing a role. After many people were forced to work from home in 2020, they’ve grown accustomed to choosing where and when they work. Now, when called back to the office, many want to hold on to remote or hybrid work models and flexible schedules. Who can blame them?

When employees feel they’re losing a sense of choice over their work, or they recognize an imbalance in work/life responsibilities, they’re more likely to disengage or “quiet quit.” No wonder this phenomenon has been gaining traction during the past year.

2. Turnover

All this dissatisfaction naturally leads to higher employee turnover, which (no surprise) also influences engagement.

On one hand, welcoming a new coworker or manager can be exciting. However, the learning curve that comes with getting a new team member up to speed can create a work imbalance for veteran employees, even if it’s just for a short time.

This imbalance can create feelings of resentment, especially when engagement is already suffering for other reasons. As a result, more people could decide to leave. And if you don’t pay close attention, this can spiral into a very costly vicious cycle.

3. Poor Communication

When organizations try to accommodate hybrid, remote, or flexible work, it can be hard to communicate effectively. Virtual meetings provide more flexibility and enable a sense of work-life balance that many employees now prefer.

But if instant messaging or online video calls are your team’s only form of communication, this isn’t a sustainable way to work. If you don’t use these tools wisely, it puts effective collaboration and productivity at risk. For strong results, you need a plan.

How to Lift Workforce Engagement

Current engagement numbers don’t look good, but that doesn’t mean HR and business managers are powerless. Some U.S. companies have been able to increase workforce engagement despite difficult circumstances. Here are four solutions that can help you improve:

1. Create a Game Plan for Remote or Hybrid Work

Not all companies are able to offer remote, hybrid, or flexible scheduling opportunities. If yours does, then make sure you develop and execute a supportive strategy, so everyone in these roles can succeed.

As previously mentioned, flexible work opportunities are likely to create confusion among employees if work processes and expectations aren’t communicated clearly or executed thoughtfully. Core workplace principles like accessibility, transparency, and inclusion are especially important.

Talk with your managers and colleagues to get their input about remote work practices they recommend for your organization. For example, you may find that using apps like Slack, Teams, or Monday to conduct brief daily online meetings will add a layer of accountability.

2. Encourage Employees to Take Time Off

42% of U.S. employees say they haven’t taken a vacation in the past year. That’s a huge percentage. Working too long without a break will only make stress and burnout worse.

Encourage your staff to take their allotted PTO by creating a culture that supports taking time to rest and recharge. If you are on the leadership team, set an example. Take your time off and try not to respond to work messages outside of working hours.

3. Invest in the Right Tools

Another important way to prevent burnout is by investing in the right tools for your staff. Note that this isn’t just about technology. It may mean you’ll need to purchase new software or update existing technology. But it can also mean outsourcing specific activities to a specialized services provider.

Start by identifying the bottlenecks in your team’s workflows. Then consider any solutions that can reduce or remove redundant or unnecessary tasks. Think in terms of cost-effective ways to automate and streamline work activities.

4. Strive to be Approachable and Transparent

In a healthy workplace culture, communication moves freely to and from all corners of the organization. It’s not just about a top-down flow, but bottom-up, and side-to-side as well.

If employees aren’t comfortable voicing their opinions, feelings, and suggestions, they’re more likely to burn out. To lift engagement, commit to creating an open work environment that welcomes feedback and ideas at all levels.

This is less about formal initiatives and more about consistent behavior among leaders and managers. It’s about showing up every day, listening, and being responsive.

Final Thoughts

Many factors are contributing to the recent decline in workforce engagement. Although the solution may seem complex and out of reach, try some of these recommendations. I think you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in the way employees view your company and their work.

More often than not, people want to do their jobs. But when little things like lack of information, inefficient technology, mundane tasks, lack of support, and strict schedules pile up, it’s only a matter of time before people start to disengage.

Be the boss that steps in and reignites the passion that got your employees to apply in the first place. If you keep at it, engagement is sure to follow.