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, and what issues are employees and businesses facing?

Global engagement fell in 2020

So, 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.

While a 2% shift over the course of a year might seem insignificant, it breaks a pattern of continuous increases since 2009, and 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, equating 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. Despite high life evaluations (55%) and low negative emotions, only 11% of Western European employees were engaged. By contrast, engagement actually rose in the US and Canada, despite insanely high stress levels.

Employee stress is at a record high

As you might expect for the most globally significant global pandemic in anyone’s lifetime, stress was pretty high for a lot of people during the pandemic. 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, meaning these statistics account for a wide range of time.

This is the highest reported global stress increase since Gallup’s reports began in 2009, and a 5% increase on last year. It’s joined in that regard by worry (41%), anger (24%) and sadness (25%). On top of that, 14% of employees report not being 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, nowhere is stress higher than the US and Canada at 57%. Although, oddly enough, it’s accompanied by a 2% increase in engagement, giving the US and Canada the highest regional levels in the whole survey (34%). This is consistent with reports from Gallup last year that they had recorded wellbeing and engagement diverging for the first time.

But that isn’t to say that wellbeing and stress management suddenly don’t matter, only 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.

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. Easily one of the most startling statistics to come out of Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace Report is the fact that 69% of employees believe businesses in their country suffer from corruption.

In fact, apparent business corruption is so prevalent 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%.

The fact that only one fifth of employees are engaged globally makes a lot more sense now. This level of business corruption (or, at the very least, perceived corruption) is the final nail in the coffin of employee/employer trust.

When employees don’t trust the company that they work for, 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. But it’s important to remember that, while 32% of employees were thriving, an identical percentage of people lost their job or business during the pandemic.

That means that, for all the employees currently thriving, those who formerly made up nearly a third of the global workforce definitely aren’t. It’s also important to note that people tend to look to their peers when gauging their own quality of life (the grass is always greener on the other side, etc).

So, 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, and unless employers address key issues like the lack of trust, job stress, and the full scope of employee wellbeing, things won’t be getting better any time soon.

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