Departments - January/February 2014

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Study Shows Employees More Disengaged Worldwide

By Deborah L. Vence

Globally, only 13 percent of employees actually are engaged at work, according to the results of a Gallup study released in October.

The latest 142-country study (2011-2012), titled, "State of the Global Workplace," showed that only about one in eight workers are committed psychologically to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations.

A much larger percentage, 63 percent, indicated that they are "not engaged," lack motivation and are less likely to devote discretionary effort to organizational goals or outcomes. This represents a slight increase from the 62 percent indicated in Gallup's 2009-2010 study. Moreover, the current study stated that 24 percent are "actively disengaged," which suggests that those employees are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to co-workers. That translates to about 900 million employees not engaged and 340 million actively disengaged workers across the globe.

To further explain, engaged employees are defined as those who work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward. Meanwhile, employees who are not engaged essentially are "checked out." They're sleepwalking through their workday, putting time, but not energy or passion, into their work; while actively disengaged employees aren't just unhappy at work, they're busy acting out their unhappiness.

That is concerning in view of the fact that employee engagement is said to become an increasingly important concern for countries and organizations that want to boost labor productivity as the global economy continues its rapid pace of change.

In spite of these results, though, the upside is that the 13 percent represents an increase from 11 percent in Gallup's previous global workplace assessment study, from 2009-2010. Also, the proportion of workers who were "actively disengaged" in the 2009-2010 study was 27 percent. The latest study showed a decrease to 24 percent.

But, such low levels of engagement among global workers continue to hinder gains in economic productivity and life quality in much of the world.

As in Gallup's previous employee study, engagement levels among employees vary across different global regions and among countries within those regions. At the regional level, Northern America (the United States and Canada) has the highest proportion of engaged workers, at 29 percent, followed by Australia and New Zealand, at 24 percent.

More than one in three workers in the Middle East and North Africa region are actively disengaged.

Such statistics prove that the need for employees to be more actively engaged is crucial considering that across the globe, engaged employees are more likely to be "thriving"—i.e., to rate their overall lives highly on a zero-to-10 scale—than those who are not engaged or actively disengaged. Among all global regions, engaged workers are at least 1.6 times as likely as actively disengaged workers to be thriving.

Also, when employees feel engaged and productive at work, it affects their lives at work and beyond the workplace positively. Engaged employees assess their overall lives more highly than not-engaged or actively disengaged employees. They also reported more positive day-to-day emotional states and interactions with others than their less engaged colleagues. For instance, the study revealed that worldwide in 2012, 31 percent of employees rated their lives highly enough to be considered thriving, while the majority of employees, 59 percent, were struggling and 10 percent were suffering.

Moreover, the study indicated that business leaders globally must raise the bar on employee engagement, because boosting workplace engagement is vital to achieving sustainable growth for companies, communities and countries, as well as for putting the global economy back on track to a more prosperous future.

Other findings in the study revealed the disparities among employees with different job types and at different education levels within countries. The study affirmed that recognizing these differences can help managers understand how societal factors could affect workplace characteristics and help them identify specific barriers they must overcome to build more engaged workforces.

Employee engagement results were collected among 73,752 respondents 18 and older in 141 countries via the Gallup World Poll, and 151,335 U.S. respondents using the Gallup Daily tracking survey.

Gallup measures employee engagement based on workers' responses to its Q12 survey, which consists of 12 actionable workplace elements with proven links to performance outcomes. To identify these elements, Gallup spent years conducting thousands of interviews at every level of various organizations, in most industries, and in several countries. Since Gallup finalized the Q12 question wording in the late 1990s, the survey has been administered to more than 25 million employees in 189 different countries and 69 languages, according to the study.