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Employee Engagement Drops Due to the Chaos of 2020

Despite rising slowly but steadily for the past decade to a record high of 38%, Gallup‘s latest survey shows U.S. employee engagement experienced a historical drop to 31% at the beginning of the summer of 2020 most likely due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and unprecedented civil unrest. Surprisingly, the percentage of “actively disengaged” has held steady between 13-14%.

The unusual drop in engagement is believed to be a direct result of the upheavals the U.S. has been experiencing since the beginning of the year, despite holding steady through previous disruptions that affected the workforce, such as the 2008-2009 recession. However, the percentage is still above the 30% mark, where it has been since Gallup’s 2014 survey, and that’s a good sign that the efforts employers made over the past decade have been successful at keeping engagement levels steady.

Measuring employee engagement is vital to the long-term success of organizations because a low percentage can be a strong indicator of the need to provide better working conditions that enhance productivity, increase employee satisfaction, and ensure profitability.

What are the factors then that get employees passionate about their work and workplace?

According to research done by Gallup, companies that are successful in maintaining a high rate of employee engagement typically employ the following tactics:

  • Have in place those leaders who model the positive change they wish to see in their organization. Since the attitudes and behaviors of leaders tend to trickle down to their employees, having involved leaders who act upon implementing improvements provides a powerful influence on the level of enthusiasm and commitment of their teams. Effective leadership, especially during unprecedented workplace upheavals, starts with clear communication – letting employees know just how external forces are affecting the company, about any plans the company is developing to respond to change, and how they will help employees cope with the uncertainty, fear, and struggles that have arisen out of current events.
  • Have an HR team that greatly influences managers and leaders through the use of strong practices and holds them accountable to develop and strengthen their teams.
  • Ensure that employees’ basic needs are met. When employees know what is expected of them, are able to fulfill their jobs, and feel supported by management, then employee engagement tactics are easier to implement.
  • Implement organizational culture changes even during financial downturns. Companies who have experienced periods of tightening budgets but continue to work toward increasing employee engagement see the payoff in the long run with improved company culture.
  • Provide support for managers, build their capability and resilience, and then hold them and their teams accountable in understanding their challenges and solving them.
  • Use performance management practices such as recognition as a powerful means to expand employees’ capabilities to new levels.
  • Don’t over-manage employee engagement by solely measuring and tracking metrics. Successful companies instead focus on the expected outcomes that are produced by improved employee engagement.

Gallup has stated they will continue to closely track employee engagement during these unprecedented times to give organizations a frequent snapshot of the well-being, enthusiasm, and commitment of their employees.

Linda Guyette
Linda Guyette has more than 25 years of experience in the professional skills training and consulting industry, providing marketing and client account management for the training experts she represents. She has a 20+ year background in online marketing, content development, and learning management system implementation. Linda was part of the Denver-based team that executed and managed IBM's nationwide Leadership Excellence Series for more than 12 years.

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