Modern Survey Asks: Has the Economic Recession Made Employees More Appreciative?

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Employee Engagement Levels Rebound to Pre-Recession Levels, Suggesting a Fundamental Change in the Psychology of the American Worker

Although economic recovery in the U.S. remains uncertain and is far from complete, Modern Survey's measurement of the U.S. workforce shows that employee engagement has risen steadily during the last twelve months. The level of employee engagement recorded in late August is now back to where it was in August of 2007 (before the recession became apparent), following a precipitous decline from August 2007 to August 2008.

All five components of Modern Survey's Employee Engagement Index show further improvement since the February 2009 measurement, resulting in statistically significant gains on all components since August of 2008. The most dramatic improvement is in the number of employees who say they intend to stay with their company, which rose by 11 percentage points, from a low of 52% in August '08, to 57% by February '09, and now stands at 63%.

Such encouraging figures in the face of continued economic hardship may well indicate a fundamental change in the psychology of the American worker.

Modern Survey's data shows that employees are feeling more optimistic about their jobs now than they were six months ago. A Modern Survey study of the Financial Services industry published in June 2009 found that fear of losing income was unrelated to employees' engagement levels. So, if it is not a decrease in fear or worry over the economy that is driving up engagement levels, what could it be? For the answer, Modern Survey took a close look at the drivers of engagement.

Modern Survey has identified five specific drivers of engagement that employers must provide for employee engagement to thrive. These five elements are: recognition/appreciation, personal accomplishment, career development, confidence in company, and compensation. It seems unlikely that organizations are spending much more time and energy attending to these drivers now, under the duress of current market conditions. And if employers are not doing a better job of actively promoting engagement, then employees must be viewing what their employers provide in a new light.

It is a well documented psychological phenomenon that survivors of deeply stressful and traumatic events often emerge with a newfound appreciation for life. Psychologists call this Post-Traumatic Growth. Perhaps the stress and trauma of this economic recession may have instilled many workers with a heightened sense of appreciation for the good things they already have and experience at work.

Modern Survey's most recent study of employee engagement shows that not only do more employees intend to stay with their company now than in either August of 2007 or 2008, but the percentage of employees that report taking pride in their work has risen from 71% in 2008 to 79% now. Similarly, the number of employees that report a willingness to recommend their employer has risen from 53% in 2008 to 58% today. All of these figures portray American workers as more appreciative of their jobs and enthusiastic about their organizations.

Business leaders should beware, however, of falling victim to a false sense of security. Even if a fundamental shift in the attitudes of American workers has occurred, as this latest study suggests, this does not mean that organizations can ignore the drivers of engagement. There's no guarantee that employees will maintain their heightened sense of appreciation when economic conditions improve and job opportunities become more plentiful. When the economy turns around, organizations can expect a hiring surge to occur. While employees may currently be more appreciative of what your company provides, they may begin to re-evaluate just how good they have it once attractive alternatives begin to open up. To retain top talent, organizations need to focus on doing whatever they can to enhance employees' experiences and perceptions of engagement drivers at work, validating and reinforcing employees' newfound levels of appreciation.

It is clear that the recession has made enhancing compensation a difficult or nearly impossible strategy for organizations to use in driving engagement, but each of the other four drivers can be attended to with little or no monetary investment. In a recession environment, business leaders should pay special attention to things they can do to increase their employees' engagement levels for free. Given that the U.S. workforce appears to be feeling much more appreciative, active efforts to drive engagement now should go an extra long way in achieving desired business results.

See the full results of this study at:

About the Study:
Through national surveys, Modern Survey tracks employee engagement using 5 questions that gauge the extent to which employees: take pride in their company, believe they have a promising future at their company, recommend their company as a great place to work, go "above and beyond" their normal job duties to help their company succeed, and intend to stay with their company. Modern Survey began posing these questions in August 2007 to nationally representative samples of 1,000 U.S. adults (18+ years old) who match census data in terms of age, gender, and region. We have repeated this measurement in August 2008, February 2009, and August 2009. This has allowed us to monitor workforce engagement in a scientifically sound fashion, and to document how engagement levels have changed nationally over time in response to changing economic and social conditions.

About Modern Survey:
In just a decade, Modern Survey has established itself as a leader in the online survey industry, providing a robust suite of proprietary technologies combined with an array of consultative services that help our clients manage talent throughout the employee life cycle, measure and evaluate customer satisfaction and gain insight into changing markets. Modern Survey products and services have spanned 100 countries on six continents in over 30 languages. Each year, Modern Survey receives millions of web survey responses and generates tens of thousands of advanced reports. Through direct and partner channels, Modern Survey's tools and services have reached more than 500 companies, over 80 of which are among the Fortune 500.


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Christopher Jensen
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