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Job unhappiness is at a staggering all-time high, according to Gallup

Key Points
  • The job market continues to boom, with millions of workers still leaving their jobs each month despite talk of a slowing economy and recession.
  • Also booming, according to Gallup polling, worker disengagement and unhappiness.
  • This is not just an HR issue but a bottom line one as well: business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit, while employees who are not engaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, equal to 11% of global GDP. 
Skynesher | E+ | Getty Images

Despite fears of a recession, the U.S. remains in the midst of the Great Resignation with job dissatisfaction at an all-time high.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued data in July confirming that the job market continues to be characterized by ample job opportunities and high levels of voluntary resignations, revealing that even after two years since the pandemic first began, millions of workers continue to leave their jobs each month. These departures are made possible by enhanced mobility during a time of extreme labor shortages, and continue to be driven by wage stagnation amid the rising cost of living and the desire to achieve more work flexibility and job satisfaction.

Gallup, in its recently released State of the Global Workplace: 2022 report, found that, along with dissatisfaction, workers are experiencing staggering rates of both disengagement and unhappiness. Sixty percent of people reported being emotionally detached at work and 19% as being miserable. Only 33% reported feeling engaged ­­— and that is even lower than 2020.

In the U.S. specifically, 50% of workers reported feeling stressed at their jobs on a daily basis, 41% as being worried, 22% as sad, and 18% angry.

Clearly, even as employers in the Covid era have focused on the idea of "work-life balance," including more work from home flexibility, increased time off policies, and shorter work weeks, worker disengagement and unhappiness has persisted — and even grown. 

That's because, as Gallup finds, it's not just the hours, work-life balance, or workplace location that leave workers dissatisfied. In fact, worker disengagement rises with remote work and 4-day week workers, and stress levels rise for in-person and 5-day week workers. So even as the nature of one's working schedule and location is important to a worker's happiness, it is not the entire story — workers are unhappy at home, at the office, working 30-hour work weeks and 60-hour work weeks.

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What really matters is how they experience that work — that is, how they are managed, coached, and treated. 

The No. 1 reported cause of dissatisfaction with the job experience is characterized as "unfair treatment at work" – the lack of a culture that emphasizes respect, community, and contribution acknowledgement. Unfair treatment includes many kinds of workplace issues, Gallup's report states, from mistreatment by coworkers, inconsistent compensation, and corporate policies, to biases and favoritism.

Beyond unfair treatment at work, job dissatisfaction and burnout correlate most highly with unmanageable workloads, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support, and unreasonable time pressure. 

The link between managers and worker satisfaction

All five of these experiences are either entirely or significantly influenced by the same factor: managers. 

Gallup found that the manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement. Thus, an essential part of the solution for the concerning number of workers that express job dissatisfaction, disengagement, and burnout, is better leaders in the workplace. 

"The role of the manager is really important in wellbeing," Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace management and wellbeing at Gallup, told CNBC. "Their first job is to make sure the work-related things are right — people know what their role is, they get recognized when they do good work, they feel cared about at work and have a chance to develop in the future, they can see where they're headed in the organization. If you can get those sorts of things right, you start building trust. And when you have trust, you can open the door for having broader discussions around wellbeing." 

Beyond the work focused elements, managers need to seek out consistent, meaningful conversations with the employees they manage, Harter said: "They need to know about their goals, discuss their goals, and be involved in setting their goals. They need to know something about each person's strengths to shorten the distance between them, and they need to know something about what's going on in that work-life blend." 

And once managers have meaningful relationships with their employees, they are in a better position to facilitate coworker relationships — which Harter argues has increased in importance since the onset of the pandemic. 

"The things that tend to drive employee engagement and wellbeing tend to be a bit situational, and managers are in the best position to understand each person's situation and to coach them in the right kind of way," said Harter. "I think that's really the reason why organizations need to focus a lot more on moving to a model of coaching manager, not just delegating manager, but a coaching manager that's in touch with their people."

According to Harter, for organizations that want to focus on better management, the first step is simple: "We need to teach managers to have at least one meaningful conversation every week with each person they manage." 

Beyond that, employers should redefine managers' roles and expectations, emphasizing their essential role in fostering the workplace experience. They should also provide the training, tools, resources, and development that managers will need to meet those expectations. Additionally, employers need to create evaluation mechanisms that will measure managers' ability to meet these expectations, and indicate which areas they need more coaching in, as well as provide managers with their own structures of support, so that burnout does not easily cascade throughout an entire organization. 

The bottom line impact of a disengaged workforce

Ultimately, the importance of focusing on workplace engagement and satisfaction is not only for employee wellbeing, but also for the bottom line. It pays to have thriving workers — Gallup found that business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers. Employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, equal to 11% of global GDP. 

Additionally, teams with satisfied employees see significantly less turnover and absenteeism, with higher rates of both employee and customer loyalty. While disengaged workers are the most likely to change employers, it takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a quality manager that leaves them engaged and satisfied in the workplace. In this way, wellbeing at work is of chief significance both to employees and employers alike.

The bottom line is that workers are not happy, nor engaged. Remote work options and schedule flexibility, although important and valuable to many workers, are not enough to keep employees engaged and satisfied. As the Great Resignation rages on, it is up to employers to find ways to not only attract new talent, but retain the employees they already have, by working towards a culture of job satisfaction – and that begins with better management.

"It's not really a pipe dream either," Harter said. "It's not just wishful thinking, it's actually very changeable."