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Oh No, Say It Ain’t So - There’s No Evidence for Engagement Alarmism?

Engagement’s in a dire state! Workers are disengaged! Employees are going to turn over in droves! If you read much of what is written about engagement in the workplace, that conclusion might seem obvious.

However, the results from the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey offer a different take on this topic. As it turns out, 31 percent of American workers report experiencing work engagement fairly often (at least once a week but as high as every day), falling into the high or very high categories, and 47 percent report experiencing engagement an average amount of time (defined as somewhere between “a few times a month” and “once a week”). Only 21 percent reported experiencing work engagement less often than that.

On a 7-point scale (ranging from 0 to 6), the mean score for respondents in 2017 was 3.83, and, as I recently pointed out in a previous post regarding past data, these results represent a fairly normal distribution with a slight negative skew.

In other words, there is no epidemic of disengagement, though, admittedly, there is definitely room for improvement.

And there appears to be a reasonably strong association between work engagement frequency and planned retention (see figure below). In the very low engagement group, for example, more than 56 percent of respondents planned to stay with their employer for two years or less, with only 20 percent planning to stay for 10 years or more. This can be easily contrasted with those in the very high engagement group, where a little more than 11 percent planned to stay for two years or less and more than 56 percent planned to stay for 10 years or more.

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Other insights can be gleaned when the work engagement results from 2017 are compared to those from the 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey.

  • High engagement frequency (the percentage of high or very high) is up by about 8 percent (31 percent in 2017 vs. 23.2 percent in 2014).
  • Low engagement frequency (the percentage of low and very low) is down by about 4 percent (21 percent in 2017 vs. 25.2 percent in 2014).
  • Average engagement frequency is down by about 5 percent (47 percent in 2017 vs. 51.6 percent in 2014).

These results point to a slight uptick in work engagement (the mean in 2014 was 3.62 compared to 3.83 in 2017), but in general indicate that work engagement has shown a fair amount of consistency across the two time points.

Therefore, regardless of what the alarmists might scream from the mountaintops, there is not a disengagement epidemic. However, managers and senior leaders should recognize that there is room for improvement when it comes to the frequency with which employees experience work engagement.

In both 2014 and 2017, work engagement and organizational trust were highly predictive of employee well-being (accounting for more than 50 percent of the variance in each survey). How workers perceive various types of psychologically healthy workplace practices demonstrate fairly strong correlations with both work engagement and trust.

  • Employee perceptions of involvement, growth and development, and health and safety were most predictive of work engagement.
  • Employee perceptions of involvement, recognition and communication were most predictive of trust.
  • These same variables were identified in both the 2014 and 2017 surveys, accounting for about 28 percent of the variance in work engagement and 40-50 percent of the variance in trust.
As such, organizations may want to allocate effort and resources toward shoring up various psychologically healthy workplace practices, as these efforts may produce benefits for trust, engagement and even overall retention.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Matt Grawitch published on June 5, 2017 6:19 PM.

Calling B.S. on Engagement Myths was the previous entry in this blog.

Make Beautiful Music Together at Work, Stress and Health 2017 #wsh2017 is the next entry in this blog.

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