by Jim Harter for Gallup
January 7, 2022
For the first year in more than a decade, the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. declined in 2021. Just over one-third of employees (34%) were engaged, and 16% were actively disengaged in their work and workplace, based on a random sample of 57,022 full- and part-time employees throughout the year. This compares with 36% engaged and 14% actively disengaged in 2020, a year with unprecedented highs and lows.
Employee engagement in the U.S., even amid the pandemic-driven disruptions of 2020, continued to pace upward, reinforcing a decade-long steady improvement pattern that led to record highs.
In the first half of 2021, Gallup reported that 36% of workers were engaged, matching the 2020 composite result. But the second half of 2021 saw a drop, resulting in the annual figure of 34% engaged workers in 2021. This may not be surprising given the many challenges leadership faced in recent months, including record increases in employee quit rates, implementing vaccine mandates, and planning for various combinations of remote and on-site work while trying to match worker preferences with leadership expectations.
The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged workers in the U.S. is 2.1 to 1, down from 2.6 to 1 in 2020.
Gallup measures employee engagement by asking random samples of the working population about specific workplace elements that link to many organizational outcomes, including profitability, productivity, customer service, retention, safety and overall wellbeing.
These elements include clarity of expectations, opportunities for development and opinions counting at work. In short, engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. Actively disengaged employees are disgruntled and disloyal because most of their workplace needs are unmet.
U.S. employee engagement trend from 2000 to 2021 showing that for the first year in more than a decade, the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. declined in 2021 (to 34%).
ADDITIONAL FINDINGS AND IMPLICATIONS
Organizations have lost sight of the basics. Among the engagement elements Gallup measures, the greatest declines were in clarity of expectations, having the right materials and equipment, and the opportunity for workers to do what they do best. These elements are foundational to employee engagement.
Managers and healthcare workers are less engaged. Employees who saw the most decline in engagement in 2021 included healthcare or social assistance workers (a 12-percentage-point decline) and managers (a seven-point decline). Specifically, healthcare workers saw the greatest declines in feeling that someone at work cares about them, someone encourages their development, they have an opportunity to do what they do best, they have clear expectations, they have the materials and equipment they need to do their job right, and their opinions count at work. Managers saw the steepest declines in feeling that they have clear expectations and someone who encourages their development.