According to Gallup, 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 continued into 2022, as 32% of full- and part-time employees working for organizations are now engaged, while 18% are actively disengaged. Active disengagement increased by two percentage points from 2021 and four points from 2020.
The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged workers in the U.S. is 1.8-to-1, down from 2.1-to-1 in 2021 and 2.6-to-1 in 2020. This is the lowest ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees in the U.S. since 2013, almost a decade earlier. The record high is a ratio of 2.7-to-1 recorded in 2019.
The decline began in late 2021: The 32% of engaged employees in 2022 is equivalent to the percentage in the second half of 2021. The engagement elements that declined the most from the pre-pandemic record-high engagement ratio in 2019 to 2022 were:
- clarity of expectations
- connection to the mission or purpose of the company
- opportunities to learn and grow
- opportunities to do what employees do best
- feeling cared about at work
How Organizations Can Rebound in 2023
The good news is this: While only 32% of U.S. employees overall were engaged in 2022, there are organizations that have more than doubled this percentage. Gallup’s 2022 Exceptional Workplace Award winners averaged 70% employee engagement even during highly disruptive times.
They maintained this level of engagement by using their organizational culture and values to guide business decisions, embracing flexible and hybrid work while maintaining strong connections between managers and employees — keeping performance, collaboration, employee wellbeing, and the customer at the center of how work gets done. And most importantly, they equipped their managers with the skills and tools to have ongoing meaningful conversations with employees.
The good news is this: While only 32% of U.S. employees overall were engaged in 2022, there are organizations that have more than doubled this percentage.
Focus on clarifying expectations: The most concerning decline has been in the lack of clear expectations for employees across all demographic groups when comparing engagement pre-pandemic with the latest findings. This element is the most foundational of all engagement elements. A lack of role clarity makes all other engagement elements less impactful — employees cannot perform at a high level when they are confused as to what they are supposed to do.
Confused employees are more likely to look for other work and eventually leave the organization. What could be causing this consistent lack of clarity?
- Leadership not clearly communicating the organization’s intended cultural values and strategy in the new world of work.
- Young workers who are in remote or hybrid settings are the most vulnerable — the increased frequency of physical separation may contribute to this.
- Managers not being in touch with the ongoing work-life challenges.