Meaningful Conversations Needed as Employees are More Engaged but More Stressed

Employee engagement is on the rise globally, with the percentage of engaged workers increasing from 12% in 2009 to 23% in 2022, representing over 250 million more engaged employees. This encouraging trend is according to Gallup‘s survey of over 2 million employees worldwide in 2022, before artificial intelligence posed a serious threat to jobs in 2023.

However, the survey also reveals record stress levels among workers. 59% of employees globally report feeling stressed for much of their workday. This paradox highlights the need for organizations to address both engagement and wellbeing as they shape the future of work.

Gallup has found that effective management in the more remote and hybrid, post-pandemic workforce involves having one meaningful conversation with each employee once per week that focuses on recognition, collaboration, goals and priorities, and strengths. These feedback meetings can be short (15-30 minutes) if they happen weekly.

Engagement nears 1 in 4 workers

Gallup’s global survey, conducted annually since 2009, provides a representative sampling of employee engagement worldwide. Questions assess enthusiasm and connection workers feel toward their jobs.

While still low overall, the steady rise in engagement is good news, considering its proven links to performance outcomes like productivity, retention, and customer loyalty. Gallup’s meta-analysis shows these connections persist across economic conditions.

Regions with the most engaged workers currently include South Asia, the U.S & Canada, and Latin America/Caribbean. The increases in South Asia and Latin America drove the global jump. Meanwhile engagement dipped recently in the US and Canada.

The data also reveals variations in engagement by role and work arrangement. Globally, 31% of managers are engaged, compared to just 20% of individual contributors.

In addition, remote workers report higher engagement than those fully onsite, at 30% versus 21%. Hybrid workers come in at 24% engaged. While surprising, this aligns with remote work’s increased flexibility. 

Stress rates near all-time highs

At the same time that engagement is trending upwards, employee stress is maintaining record levels in Gallup’s survey.

59% of global employees said they felt stressed for much of the previous workday. This figure is on par with the height of the pandemic, underlining a lingering sense of burnout. Younger employees and remote staff reported higher stress. The unpredictability of remote work may contribute to this, though engagement influences stress more than location.

The regions with the most burned out workers include East Asia and the U.S & Canada. In the latter, high engagement coexists with 52% feeling daily stress.

With only 23% of global workers engaged, most are still disconnected. 18% are actively disengaged, while 59% are “quiet quitters,” not fully investing themselves. Better compensation, wellbeing support, and culture changes are areas quiet quitters want addressed. Gallup estimates $8.8 trillion in untapped productivity globally due to poor engagement.

But top organizations have proven far higher engagement possible, averaging above 70%. This shows disconnection is not inevitable, but a consequence of management and culture.

The need for a holistic approach

As organizations shape the future workforce, Gallup’s data emphasizes attending to both engagement and wellbeing holistically. With remote and hybrid work persisting, managers need new strategies like weekly one-on-one conversations focusing on priorities, strengths, recognition and goals.

Fostering job enthusiasm and fulfillment for employees must coincide with reducing burnout risk, if organizations want to unlock higher performance. The global workforce paradox calls for management philosophies addressing the person as a whole — both their productivity and their humanity. This holistic outlook will define the most sustainable workplaces of the future.

Or, if we go by psychology literature, cultivate resilience. While the popular view of resilience concerns bouncing back from adversity or stressful situations, building resilience requires us to face adversity, handle it, and ultimately return stronger.

More important perhaps, resilience and the capacity to handle stress are for everyone, not just the extraordinary few. Crucially, resilience can be learned and grown using lessons from cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

Current times call for global moblity specialists and employers to see how they can provide meaningful conversations — and not just let them cope on their own given the rapid changes in the workplace happening on a global scale. Even if the study points to more engagement of employees, burnout is not that far behind.