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America, we have a problem. People aren't feeling engaged with their work


It seems like there's a problem in American workplaces. A growing number of people just don't like their jobs. A new Gallup report reveals fewer than a third of people feel engaged with their work. As NPR's Andrea Hsu reports, that's not just an issue for workers. It could also hurt their companies.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: This drop in employee engagement started in the pandemic, and it's only getting worse. Jim Harter is Gallup's chief workplace scientist.

JIM HARTER: Younger workers, in particular, are less connected to their organization, less satisfied with their organization overall.

HSU: Young millennials and Gen Zers reported feeling less cared for at work, less heard. Fewer of them said they have someone who encourages their development. Fewer have a best friend at work. Harter says that's become an important predictor of whether someone might recommend their company or consider looking for a different job.

HARTER: Having a friend at work matters more now than it did pre-pandemic.

HSU: Gallup found engagement fell most among people who could work remotely but have to work on-site. But the survey found another problem with fully remote workers. A growing number of them are now in a middle zone that Jim Harter equates to quiet quitting.

HARTER: They'll show up, do the minimum required, but not much else, and they'll still look for other opportunities out there.

HSU: These findings don't surprise Tanvi Sinha. She's an audit manager at the accounting firm Matthews, Carter & Boyce in Fairfax, Va. She started her career back when everyone was in the office every day - even Saturdays in the busy season.

TANVI SINHA: You develop that relationship with people. You make friends with people. You're spending most time at work. You're going out for lunches. Those are the things that you're missing.

HSU: Now that coming to the office is optional. But it's not just about being social, Sinha says. It can help your career to get a holistic view of your company.

SINHA: Working remotely, you're working on one project. You don't even know what kind of other projects your firm does or what kind of other people you can be working with. You have very little exposure.

HSU: The Gallup survey backs that up. Across age groups and no matter where people were working, it found that employees were less connected to the broader purpose of their companies, also less clear about what's expected of them. Jim Harter says that's worrisome.

HARTER: You could almost equate it to employees becoming a little bit more like gig workers.

HSU: Who aren't as loyal to their employers, who aren't in it for the long haul.

STEPHANIE FRIAS: I believe that companies are having a reckoning.

HSU: Stephanie Frias is chief people officer at Lyra Health, which provides mental health services to companies. With all the quiet and real quitting going on, she says companies are now realizing that workers want something different and expect something different.

FRIAS: We're going through a time where what work means is being redefined, and it's being challenged. What worked in the past isn't going to work. And what makes it hard is that no one truly has a playbook.

HSU: Frias says focusing on mental wellness is key to increasing worker engagement and retention. What she's hearing from workers is this.

FRIAS: I still want to engage in the workplace, but I want to do it in a way that is convenient and palatable to my lifestyle.

HSU: The accounting firm where Tanvi Sinha works is trying to find a good balance. People aren't required to be in the office, but managers like Sinha do encourage their teams to come in, and preferably on the same days.

SINHA: Pick a few days. Mingle with people. Talk to people.

HSU: Sinha says technology can help. She does set up regular video calls with her team members to check in. But even so, there are pitfalls.

SINHA: Some people who were hired in COVID - I mean, I went to work after a long time, and I couldn't even recognize that this was the person. So that's bad on my part.

HSU: Jim Harter at Gallup says good managers are now more important than ever. They're the ones who can make sure employees know what's expected of them and help employees feel cared for.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE PHARCYDE SONG, "SHE SAID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.