Employee Engagement Nosedives as Exhaustion Hits the U.S. Workforce

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Modern Survey’s National Study Shows Clear Decrease in U.S Workers’ Engagement.

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We passed up the Japanese a couple years ago in general productivity and hours worked, and I remember they used to have a special word in Japanese for 'death by overwork'

After a year of upward trending engagement scores, Modern Survey’s latest study on employee engagement in the U.S. workforce shows a precipitous decline in workers’ psychological investment in their organizations. While the economic recession may have temporarily motivated employees to put forth extra effort on the job, the latest data from this scientific study suggests U.S. workers may have hit their breaking point, as all five components of Modern Survey’s Employee Engagement Index are now trending downward.

Modern Survey began tracking the engagement of the U.S. workforce using nationwide samples of U.S. workers in August 2007, before the recession started. In August 2008, when the economic crisis was well underway, clear drops in all five components of Modern Survey’s Employee Engagement Index were recorded. Employee engagement then rallied from August 2008 to August 2009, eclipsing pre-recession levels. Now, after a year of increasing employee effort, sacrifices to ensure employment and increased alignment with organizational goals, the trend has broken. The most significant declines are statistically significant six percentage point drops in the number of workers who say they “take pride in their company,” (from 79% in August 2009 to 73% in February 2010) and “intend to stay with their company for a long time” (from 63% in August 2009 to 57% in February 2010).

At a recent Modern Survey Executive Roundtable event, employee engagement experts and senior leaders in Human Resources from some of the largest companies in the U.S. weighed in on the findings. The group came to the consensus that the strain of the economic recession has likely left workers feeling depleted of energy.

Nancy Hanna, President of HR Executive Forum and Vice President of Chandler Group, worries that continuous pressure to do more with less is not only unsustainable, but it’s also unhealthy.

“We passed up the Japanese a couple years ago in general productivity and hours worked, and I remember they used to have a special word in Japanese for 'death by overwork' (Karoshi)…if you throw yourself against the wall, month after month, year after year, with no immediate end in sight, people are going to get sick.”

As organizations strive to combat this sense of fatigue in their workforce, paying attention to the key drivers of employee engagement may prove to be more important than ever. The results of this study should serve as a wake-up call to organizational leaders who may have been preoccupied with other matters in recent months, or who still do not fully grasp just how critical creating and sustaining high levels of employee engagement is to the performance, and even survival, of their business in the long run.

As Barbara Shaw, EVP, Director of Corporate HR for TCF Financial Corporation put it, “Keeping people engaged is just good management.”

Bruce Campbell, Senior Consultant at Modern Survey, believes that if companies do only one thing right now in regards to employee engagement, it should be to express sincere appreciation for employees and recognition of their contributions, and it should come from the organization’s most senior leaders first, then repeated and reinforced by managers at all levels.

See the full results from this study at: http://modernsurvey.com/news/?p=457

About the Study
Through national surveys, Modern Survey tracks employee engagement using five 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. This measure was repeated in August 2008, February 2009, August 2009, and most recently in February 2010 to monitor employee 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 less than a decade, Modern Survey has established itself as the employee engagement leader in the online survey industry. Providing a robust suite of proprietary technologies combined with an array of consultative services, Modern Survey helps 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 over 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. http://www.modernsurvey.com

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Christopher Jensen
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