Blog Engagement

The state of the workplace in 2021: Gallup’s stark findings for engagement and stress

Gallup has recently released this year’s iteration of their ongoing State of the Global Workplace Report series. So, how is employee engagement in 2021? According to one of the biggest workplace analytics groups in the world, it's not looking good.

Looking back on the previous year, how is employee engagement in 2021 and how has COVID-19 impacted the workplace?

Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace Report details the findings of global employee surveys conducted in 2020 during the pandemic. According to them, employee engagement across the world fell to 20% last year.

A 2% shift over the course of a year might seem insignificant. But this matters because it breaks a pattern of continuous increases since 2009. Besides, even a 2% change in engagement statistics accounts for tens of millions of people.

According to Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO at Gallup, this is costing the global economy almost 10% of its GPD a year. That equates to 8.1 trillion in US dollars (which is just shy of £5.9 trillion at the time of writing). More than anything else possibly could, this finding highlights just how essential employee engagement actually is to business success.

Of course, as with any global statistic, the lack of engagement isn’t uniform. Only 11% of Western Europeans reported engagement, despite high life evaluations (55%) and low negative emotions. By contrast, engagement actually rose in the US and Canada, despite insanely high stress levels.

Employee stress is at a record high

Stress was pretty high for quite a lot of people during the pandemic. But that's to be expected. After all, COVID has been the most globally significant pandemic of our lifetimes. 43% of employees reported high levels of stress for much of the day prior to their survey interview.

According to the report’s methodology, these interviews concluded in early 2021 in some countries. This means that, taken together, these interviews account for a significant amount of time. If all of the interviews had happened within the same handful of days, it wouldn't accurately reflect the stress of the last year.

That's the highest reported increase in global stress since Gallup’s reports began in 2009. It's also 5% up from last year. Stress is joined in that regard by worry (41%), anger (24%) and sadness (25%).

On top of that, 14% of employees report that they weren't treated with any respect the previous day. And how is employee engagement in 2021 meant to thrive with so much negativity?

According to Gallup’s report, the US and Canada have the highest stress levels at 57%. But oddly enough, it’s accompanied by a 2% increase in engagement.

That means the US and Canada the highest regional levels in the whole survey (34%). But this is actually consistent with reports from Gallup last year. That's because Gallup recorded wellbeing and engagement diverging for the first time.

But that isn’t to say that wellbeing and stress management suddenly don’t matter. It just means that US and Canadian workers seemed to be situationally more engaged than employees in other countries. Employee wellbeing is still absolutely essential for maintaining a healthy, effective workforce in 2021. One possible explanation is that this high engagement is the result of WFH jobs providing a vital sense of routine over lockdown.

Businesses are corrupt, according to employees

So, how is employee engagement in 2021? Awful, considering that the vast majority of employees think businesses are highly corrupt.

Yes, you read that right. 69% of employees globally believe businesses in their country suffer from corruption. That's easily one of the most startling statistics to come out of Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report.

This apparent business corruption is incredibly prevalent. In fact, it's so common that the only country without a majority of employees reporting it in the survey was Australia at 37%. The next lowest was Western Europe at 51%, East Asia at 56%, and the US and Canada at 59%.

Employers aren't engaging the vast majority of their people. That makes sense, given that businesses seem to be so corrupt. Whether it's real or just perceived corruption doesn't matter. The end result is the same.

When employees don’t trust their employers, their incentive to engage plummets. They’re less likely to take their manager seriously, and more likely just to show up to collect their pay. If they keep showing up, that is.

The extent of perceived business corruption shows that employers aren’t doing enough to be transparent with their staff. Money may be the thing that pushes people to work. But even so, a lot of people care about the values of the company they work for.

Whether it’s internal corruption among managers, or external corruption in how the business deals with the rest of the world, nobody wants to feel like they work for the bad guys.

Despite stress, almost a third of employees are thriving

Stress may be at record levels. But despite that, roughly a third of employees (32%) rate themselves as ‘thriving’ in Gallup’s life evaluation survey. Thriving employees tend to exhibit fewer mental or physical health problems, according to Gallup’s findings. 32% is the percentage of thriving employees since 2009.

It might seem odd that we saw even marginally record-breaking levels of employee life evaluation during the pandemic. 32% of employees may have been thriving. But an identical percentage of people lost their job or business during the pandemic.

One of those thirds may have been having a good time. But those who formerly made up nearly a third of the global workforce definitely aren’t. The thing is, people tend to look to their peers when gauging their own quality of life. You know what they say, the grass is always greener, blah blah blah.

And given that so many others have fallen on hard times, it may have made others more appreciative of what they still had, such as their job.

So, one more time, how is employee engagement in 2021?

The truth is, at just one fifth, it’s pretty abysmal. Engagement levels are in the gutter. So, employers must address key issues like the lack of trust, job stress, and the full scope of employee wellbeing. Otherwise, things won’t be getting better any time soon.

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