Study Finds 2 Out of 3 American Workers Aren't Really Working All That Much

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Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all U.S. workers are not fully engaged in their work, according to a new Global Workforce Study by professional services company Towers Watson.

The study of more than 30,000 workers in 29 different industry sectors including financial services also found that two out of three American workers are struggling to cope with work situations that don’t provide sufficient support.

Pressure to Do More with Less

This finding suggests employees are finding it difficult to sustain the kind of positive connection to their companies that yields consistent productivity—the result of almost a decade of pressure to do more with less and respond to the challenges of global competition, ever-evolving technology and the ongoing need for strict cost management.

“When workers are not fully engaged, it leads to greater performance risk for employers. It makes companies more vulnerable to lower productivity, higher inefficiency, weaker customer service and greater rates of absenteeism and turnover,” said Julie Gebauer, managing director, Talent and Rewards, Towers Watson.

“Without attention and interventions aimed at improving on-the-job support for employees and creating a sense of attachment to the organization, this trend could worsen—and directly affect business outcomes," said Gebauer.

"Companies have known for years that employee engagement is important to business performance," she added. "We’re now seeing—in part because of the tough business climate—that engagement is quite fragile and will not be sustained over time without careful attention to very specific elements in the work environment.”

A Fresh Perspective on Engagement

The study breaks new ground in understanding and measuring what contributes to sustained employee engagement in the workplace today and demonstrates the strength of the relationship between “sustainable engagement” and specific financial outcomes for employers.

“Sustainable engagement is an important evolution in the science of workforce behavior—and it’s an approach well suited to the unique aspects of the current work environment,” said Laura Sejen, global practice leader, Rewards, Towers Watson.

“It recognizes that employees need support from their employer to continue to give discretionary effort on the job, and right now, employees are telling us they’re not getting that support in the way and at a level they need," she added.

“This is an important wake-up call for U.S. companies if they hope to sustain their growth,” Sejen continued. “When we looked at sustainable engagement scores among 50 global companies in a related piece of research and examined their one-year operating margins, we saw dramatic evidence of the impact of sustainable engagement on performance. The companies with high sustainable engagement had operating margins almost three times those of organizations with a largely disengaged workforce. That fact alone creates a compelling case for change.”

Recipe for Success

The study findings point to specific actions employers can take to address the elements missing for these individuals in the work environment, putting solutions directly within companies’ control. “There is a real imperative for change right now," said Gebauer. "The risks of continuing to manage with traditional practices are just too great from a performance perspective. And everyone in an organization has a role to play in helping close gaps in employees’ feelings of enablement and energy—from executives, to supervisors, to human resources, to employees themselves. By taking actions to address identified gaps, organizations will be able to move some of the unsupported and detached to engaged—and likely experience a measurable and positive impact on financial performance.”

Other key findings from the study

  • Fewer than half (47 percent) agree there are no substantial obstacles to getting their job done well.
  • Slightly more than half (53 percent) don’t feel their organization makes it possible for them to have a healthy balance between work and personal life.
  • Just under a third (30 percent) say they’re bothered by excess pressure on the job.
  • Just under half (47percent) believe their supervisors don’t have enough time to handle the people aspects of their role.
  • Under one-third (32 percent) say their organization does a good job of providing opportunities for advancement.
  • Only 37 agree their senior management does a good job at developing future leaders.
  • Just under half (49 percent) say they have trust and confidence in their company’s senior leadership team.