New Survey Shows What Employees Really Feel About Working Today

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Employee engagement is one of those topics that seems to set people off.

Some think it’s a huge talent management issue that critical for a high performing workforce; others think that it’s complete and total BS that doesn’t measure much of anything.

And on top of that, a lot of people have a hard time even getting a handle on what engagement actually is and argue over how to define it.

That’s why this new survey that came across my desk — titled America’s Workforce: A Revealing Account of What U.S. Employees Really Think About Today’s Workplace got my attention, because it gets into what U.S. employees really think about working these days.

Half of all employees are frustrated about work

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Employee’s feel discouraged: More than half (54 percent) of employees have felt frustrated about work.
  • Manager/employee relationships need work: Only 38 percent of workers strongly agree that their manager has established an effective working relationship with them.
  • People don’t understand strategic direction: Some 40 percent say they don’t get the company’s vision, or worse yet, have never seen it.
  • Innovation is being stymied: Nearly 67 percent of American workers can name at least one thing that would prevent them from taking any kind of risk at work.
  • Big picture contributions missing: Only 43 percent of workers say they feel accountable for the company’s revenue, profit, or growth.
  • Not leading by example: Just 26 percent of workers strongly agree that managers embody the values they expect from their employees, only 39 percent say their manager understands his/her role at the company, and 40 percent strongly feel their managers understand their company’s strategy or goals (Editor’s note: Yikes!).
  • Collaboration across teams is tough: Just 27 percent strongly feel they can depend on outsiders to fulfill their duties when working with other groups.
  • Training isn’t relevant: Some 26 percent report they don’t have any training available to them right now, and the 62 percent that do have training available believe it is either somewhat or not at all applicable to their jobs.

Specific areas for meaningful changes

This research was conducted by Kelton Group, which says it is “a leading global insights firm,” on behalf of Root, a company that says it is “a strategy execution company that helps organizations engage their people as the catalyst and driver for change.”

This is just one survey, but jeez, it’s hard to find a more damning indictment of the state (or lack thereof) of employee engagement and American management today.

But it also is not surprising to see these results because they mirror what we have seen in so much other research that shows how workers are fed up with how they have been treated during the Great Recession and not-so-great recovery and ready to do something about it should the opportunity present itself.

“Many surveys tell us there’s something wrong – we know that American workers are unhappy or not engaged, and leaders know they need make adjustments to keep the very best talent,” said Rich Berens, president of Root, in a press release about the research.

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He adds: “However, surveys rarely give leaders specific areas where they can and should make meaningful changes. With this research, we wanted to uncover the specifics of where employees really would like to see things be different and how management can take that data and make organizational changes for the better.”

A few positive takeaways

The survey also pointed out some more positive findings, including these:

  • Finding the bright spots: More than half (56 percent)  feel their company is better at identifying what works well instead of fixing processes that are not working.
  • Training can make a difference: Workers with training available to them have recently felt committed (48 percent vs. 39 percent), happy (45 percent vs. 37 percent), and excited (30 percent vs. 14 percent) about work.
  • Glimmers of hope: 43 percent of workers said they felt happy about work at some point in the last month.

The survey, which was conducted online between Dec. 20, 2012 and Jan. 2, 2013, analyzed the responses of 1,061 U.S.-based full-time and part-time employees across a variety of industries, companies, and positions and was conducted by Kelton Group, a leading global insights firm that serves as a partner to more than 100 of the Fortune 500 and thousands of smaller companies and organizations.

Harder to hang on to employees

If you think that I’ve made this survey sound like it’s mostly bad news, it’s not. What it does is paint a frank picture of how U.S. workers feel about their jobs and the people they work for, as well as what needs to be done to improve on that.

In fact, the opening paragraph of the survey (and you can get a copy here), makes this very clear:

In recent years, tough economic times and an unsteady job market have made most people with jobs try to make the best of their current positions due to necessity. However, the America’s Workforce survey finds it may be harder than companies think to hang on to many of their employees.

This may be linked to employees’ weak relationships with their supervisors, skepticism of the company’s leaders, a fuzzy picture of the organization’s vision and their contributing role in the outcome, challenging accountability relationships with other teams or functions, and a limited amount of job-applicable training. This could lead to tough times at organizations considering major strategic changes that impact engagement, culture, productivity, and operations.

The survey’s insights can help leaders and organizations retain their best employees as the economy continues to improve and more successfully drive strategic outcomes to positively impact the business.”

That’s what it’s all about, it seems, and there are some great insights here for both employees and their managers alike. The only question is, will they take the time to really get into it and try to hammer out some solutions?

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.