Worker Engagement Rollercoasters Through the Pandemic

According to Gallup, worker engagement ping-ponged in 2020. It's important for managers to be aware of some of the facts about worker engagement.

Last March, as work and life were first disrupted due to COVID-19, the overall well-being of Americans declined sharply. However, employee engagement increased to 37% in March 2020 from 35% in 2019, according to the report.

Employee engagement dropped last June amid protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd. Engagement dropped most significantly among managers, non-White respondents and those with Democratic political party affiliation or independents, according to Gallup.

The engagement of U.S. workers in late June and early July then reversed course to a record level of 40% engaged. In mid-July through September, rates reverted to the early COVID-19 level of 36%. Based on a sampling of workers from January 2021, 39% of U.S. workers are engaged while 14% are actively disengaged.

Gallup cites these significant developments regarding workplace engagement during the pandemic:

  1. Employees say they are getting more feedback. 45% of workers say they have gotten feedback from their manager either daily or a few times per week. This is up from 26% in 2019. But only 28% strongly agree they received meaningful feedback in the past week, up from 19% in 2019. Gallup has found meaningful feedback is a critical factor in the engagement of all workers, especially remote ones.
  2. Engagement among hybrid employees has improved. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees who work remotely at least some of the time had the highest levels of engagement. This continued during 2020, and engagement increased by two percentage points to 43% in the second half of last year. 56% of workers continue to work remotely at least some of the time in January 2021. Among them, 44% have found remote working to be a preference going forward, while 39% would prefer to go back to working in an office once restrictions are lifted.
  3. Those who work from home all or nearly all of the time reported higher burnout. In 2019, 18% of people who fully worked from home reported burnout very often or always — lower than those who worked from home some or none of the time. In 2020, 29% of people who fully worked from home reported burnout very often or always —  higher than those who worked from home some or none of the time.
  4. Manager engagement is too low. In 2020, manager engagement, already low, declined from 34% to 33% in the first to second half of the year. The engagement of managers is critical because they set the tone for the engagement of the people who report to them. Managers affect 70% of the variance in team engagement. The decreases in engagement during June of 2020 were associated with declines in manager engagement.

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