Breaking News: Employees Are Not Thrilled With Their Jobs

The verdict is in: Employee engagement is bad. Like, really bad.

Gallup released its annual “State of the American Workplace” study on engagement Tuesday, reporting that a whopping 70 percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” with their work. That leaves just 30 percent of the American workforce claiming to be genuinely excited when they wake up for work every morning.

But wait, it gets worse: Gallup estimates that those actively disengaged workers cost the U.S. between roughly $450 billion to $550 billion every year in lost productivity. These folks are also more likely to steal from the company, negatively influence co-workers, miss workdays and drive customers away. Just wonderful.

With numbers like those, I’m just hoping my copy editor is engaged enough to edit and have this blog up before 5 p.m.

There is one tiny silver lining to Gallup’s mostly dour report: Even though just 30 percent of U.S. workers say they are actively engaged in their work, the percentage is the highest since 2007, when it also was at 30 percent and which was before the financial crisis and horrible recession that followed.

In fact, according to Gallup, just 26 percent of employees claimed to be actively engaged in 2005, when the economy was trending heavily upward and business was trotting along just fine. This makes me wonder if employees have ever been engaged.

Still, all jokes aside, engagement isn’t something to be taken lightly. It can have a profound impact on corporate financial gain.

According to the Gallup report, organizations with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010-11 experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competition in 2011-12. To compare, Gallup says those with an average of 2.6 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced 2 percent lower EPS compared with their competition during the same time period.

Engagement also differs by generation. The Gallup report showed that employees at the beginning of their careers and those approaching the end are more likely to be engaged than those in the middle. Millennials, or Generation Y, are the most likely to say they will leave their jobs in the next year if the job market improves. Women also have slightly higher engagement than men, according to the Gallup report.

Gallup offers some things organizations can consider to boost their engagement. Here are three that stood out.

Pick good managers. We’ve heard this so many times before, but people who don’t like their boss are likely to report disengagement. Surprise, surprise.

Define engagement in everyday terms. Engagement often turns into a lofty goal at the highest level without much room for realistic implementation, Gallup suggests. Instead, turn the notion of “employee engagement” into day-to-day terms. What kinds of conversations have to happen to make engagement a daily and weekly initiative and not an annual or biannual ritual. Have managers hold routine engagement conversations with employees.

Localize engagement. Tight-knit environments are most likely to report higher levels of engagement, Gallup suggests. Therefore it’s apparent that human resources managers for bigger companies need to target engagement planning initiatives to individual units or teams within an organization. Again, this seems to point to the notion of hiring good, creative managers on the local level who are willing to take on the issue and promote a positive office environment.