The unprecedented changes to workplace culture that occurred in 2020 caused employee engagement to dramatically increase, decrease, and then increase again—reaching a nearly record-breaking high in January 2021 at 39%. (The highest employee engagement ever recorded by Gallup was 40%, and it occurred for a brief moment in time in July 2020.)

After a turbulent year, engagement has settled back down to pre-pandemic numbers, but the percentage of actively disengaged employees has increased. According to Gallup, actively disengaged employees currently make up 15% of the workforce. These employees “report miserable work experiences and are generally poorly managed.”

The good news is that employee engagement had been slowly and steadily increasing in the U.S. for a decade before the pandemic began. The bad news is that despite the progress made over time, engagement is currently stuck at 36%. In short, we still have a long way to go.

Creating an engaged workforce is crucial to the success of your organization, especially as workplaces continue to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of the moment.

For starters, engaged employees are significantly less likely to change jobs. In 2021, 74% of actively disengaged workers are looking for a new job. Meanwhile, 55% of employees who are neither engaged nor disengaged but fall somewhere in between are also seeking new employment. It is not enough for employees to feel lukewarm about their workplace—if they are not engaged, they may move on.

Building engagement requires meeting the needs of your employees on an individual and situational level, which is why the hybrid model is an appealing solution for many organizations. The hybrid workplace offers flexibility that empowers employees to decide where they work based on their unique needs.

But leaders must remember that engagement is about more than just happy employees. The dramatic spikes in employee engagement during 2020, a notoriously unhappy year, should provide evidence of this fact. What employees really want is an employer who cares about their well-being. Employees want to be seen as an individual, not just an employee.

Relationships are what drive employee engagement. In addition to feeling cared for, employees want to find purpose and meaning in their work. Managers who build positive relationships with employees by demonstrating interest in their professional development create engaged employees. A job must be more than just a paycheck and benefits, it should be an opportunity to grow.

According to Gallup, managers or team leaders are responsible for 70% of the variance in employee engagement. This is why it is essential for senior leadership to regularly check in with managers, looking for signs of burnout and offering support. The bottom line is that employee engagement is more than good benefits and should not fall solely on the shoulders of HR. Leaders are responsible for the positive changes that create an engaged workforce, and it’s important that they start now.

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