Employee Engagement Drops, but Workers Stay Put


Modern Survey's recent study of employee engagement levels in the U.S. workforce unveiled that even while employee engagement is sinking to new lows, only 21 percent of workers report that they are seeking new employment opportunities.

Conducted in September 2011, the most recent iteration of Modern Survey's bi-annual study found that 70 percent of employees are now either disengaged or under engaged at their job–a record high number since Modern Survey began tracking these numbers in 2007 before the recession started. Additionally, the number of fully engaged employees has dropped to a record low of 8 percent. Compared to one year ago when 15 percent of the workforce was fully engaged, the most recent data demonstrates a profound deterioration in the number of workers who are fully committed to their work and to their organization.

While 70 percent of workers are disengaged or under engaged, only one out of five workers reported that they are currently looking for a new job at a different organization, a percentage that is remarkably consistent across nearly all captured demographics, including job level, pay basis (salaried vs. hourly), and company size.

The engagement components which have seen the furthest erosion in the past year include "discretionary effort," down 10 percentage points, from 58 percent favorable in August 2010 to 48 percent favorable in September 2011, and "belief in the future of the organization," which has tumbled most severely from 48 percent favorable in 2010 to just 34 percent in the most recent study.

Coinciding with the drop in employees' belief in the future of their organization, the survey items, "I have confidence in the future of my company/organization" and "My company/organization is headed in the right direction," proved to be the most highly associated with individual respondents' engagement levels. This finding re-affirms similar results from February 2011 that demonstrated faith in the overall health and direction of the organization has leapt up to become the new top predictor of employee engagement, replacing predictors like recognition/appreciation, personal accomplishment, and career development.

Presented with Modern Survey's latest findings, Rob Grunewald, associate economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, says, "Employees discouraged with their current job may not be looking for a new job because there are no openings in their field, or they would have to take a wage decrease."

Grunewald explained how current economic conditions may be affecting employee attitudes, saying, "When there is uncertainty about future economic conditions, consumers, and businesses hunker down. Consumers tend to keep the job that they have and are cautious with their spending–they are even saving more now–while businesses are holding back on making investments."

Modern Survey Senior Consultant Bruce Campbell advises leaders and organizations to fight employee malaise by taking concerted action to address concerns over the health and direction of their companies.

Campbell says, "One of the most effective ways organizations can inject their employees with confidence is by embracing transparency. Even if the news isn't particularly good, employees tend to respond well if senior leaders are open and honest about the state of the business and clearly communicate, in the simplest possible terms, their plans and strategies for ensuring the organization's future health and success."

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by FSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.

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