Modern Survey Finds Employee Engagement Increasing in U.S. but Dissatisfaction with Compensation a Looming Threat

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Modern Survey’s latest study of employee engagement in the U.S. workforce reveals disparate short and long term outlooks

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If left unchecked, increasing dissatisfaction with compensation is likely to result in larger numbers of disengaged employees within the U.S. workforce in the near future.

Modern Survey has announced the release of its Fall 2012 National Norms Study on employee engagement levels in the U.S. workforce. The study reveals, over the last year, employee engagement in the U.S. workforce has shown significant improvement, but little movement over the top drivers of engagement and a rising dissatisfaction with compensation may give leaders good reason for pause.

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Encouragingly, Modern Survey’s September 2012 Norms Study shows a 5 percentage point increase in the number of Fully Engaged employees, balanced by an equal drop in the number of Under Engaged employees compared with a year ago. Additionally, employees’ belief in a promising future within their organization had been falling steadily, from 48 percent in 2010 to a low of 34 percent in 2011, however, over the last year this critical measure of engagement has recovered to 41 percent.

Consistent with recent National Norms Studies, the Fall 2012 findings confirm that employees’ confidence in the future prospects of their company continues to be a leading driver of engagement. However, the 2012 National Norms Study now places employees’ confidence in the organization’s senior management as the most influential and impactful driver of overall engagement. Unfortunately, favorability ratings of senior management haven’t changed much over the past year, and remain at depressingly low levels, with only 39 percent reporting that senior management shows a sincere interest in employee well-being, and 41 percent agreeing that they have confidence in their company’s senior management.

Another critical finding is the degree to which compensation is becoming an increasingly potent driver of employee disengagement among U.S. workers. The correlation between ratings of total compensation and engagement scores is the strongest over the course of the study’s five year history. The number of employees rating their total compensation as favorable (51 percent) is the lowest recorded since August 2010, while the number of employees rating their total compensation as unfavorable has continued a steady climb over the past two years from 21 percent in August 2010 to 25 percent in September 2012.

Commenting on the findings, Modern Survey President Don MacPherson said, “It’s clear more American workers are engaged in their jobs than a year ago. They’re feeling better about the economy in general, their personal financial situations, how their organizations are doing overall, and their prospects for the future. But leaders need to be careful because if left unchecked, increasing dissatisfaction with compensation is likely to result in larger numbers of disengaged employees within the U.S. workforce in the near future.”

Modern Survey began conducting this study in August 2007 to a nationally representative sample of U.S. working adults (18+ years old) who matched census data in terms of age, gender and region. The most recent iteration, conducted in September 2012, polled 700 U.S. working adults matching the same census criteria. Multiple regression analyses were performed to determine which survey items best predict engagement mean scores — responses to these identified items are most significantly associated with overall engagement.

Modern Survey measures workforce intensity — that fire in your company’s belly that makes all things possible. Our human capital measurement software combines feedback, benchmarks and data from enterprise systems to elucidate the correlation between employee performance and company success. We analyze the stuff your talent management system can’t — so that you know what to do next. We are Modern Survey. And we are relentless. To find out more, visit

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Christopher Jensen
Modern Survey
(612) 399-3837
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